Georgetown University awarded United Nations climate change global leader Christiana Figueres an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters on April 8 in recognition of ‘‘her transformative leadership on the issue of climate change, her concern for its effect on the world’s most vulnerable people, and her demonstration of the importance and effectiveness of multilateral global diplomacy,’’ as the director of the Institute for Women, Peace and Security Melanne Verveer stated in her reading of the degree citation.
Christiana Figueres, from Costa Rica, serves as the Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). Before assuming this title in 2010, Figueres held various public service positions in her country, including Counselor at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Germany, Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Planning, and Chief of Staff to the Minister of Agriculture. In 1995, she was part of the Costa Rican climate change negotiating team and served there for fourteen years, working both on the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. She has also represented Latin America on the Board of the Clean Development Mechanism and founded a non-profit organization, Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas, which she directed for eight years.
As executive secretary for the UNFCCC, Figueres has led many climate change conferences, most notably the Conference of the Parties in Paris. In the summit, 195 nations reached an agreement to ‘‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (…), recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’’, The New York Times reports. This ambitious goal aims to reduce emissions from forest degradation and carbon emissions, as well as explores different policy approaches to the issue.
One such policy has taken effect by Figueres’ own home country, Costa Rica. The small Central American country holds a renewable energy policy that covers 99 percent of the country’s population. In 2015, Costa Rica announced it had gone 285 consecutive days running only on renewable energy, according to La Nación. Figueres herself has recognized the country’s exemplary position in the field, acknowledging its leadership when setting carbon neutrality goals in 2009. Nonetheless, she recognizes that Costa Rica, and the world at large, still face important challenges in the fight against climate change.
‘‘The Paris Agreement is a living testimony of mankind’s ability to rise to unprecedented challenges because we have never faced a challenge as grand and as seemingly overwhelming as climate change,’’ Figueres stated in her acceptance speech of the honorary Doctorate at Gaston Hall. ‘‘The long road to Paris was paved with relentless optimism, stubborn trust and the conviction that we do share the moral
responsibility to protect the most vulnerable,’’ she added.