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Christiana Figueres sees lessons for UN leadership in climate talks

July 10, 2016
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U.N. secretary-general hopeful Christiana Figueres held up her success as executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as an example of the international organization’s potential and a model for the broad consensus diplomacy she laid out in her nomination speech Thursday.

Figueres accepted her nomination to the post during a ceremony at Costa Rica’s National Theater in San José.

The former U.N. climate czar, who stepped down Wednesday after six years on the job, said that if chosen as the next secretary-general, she would apply lessons from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, which was unanimously approved by 195 countries.

Figueres said the climate negotiations showed that global solutions can be achieved when countries see a common end that benefits everyone. Respecting the specific needs of a given country does not preclude a wider agreement, she said.

“This was not an accident, it was strategy and attitude,” she said of the climate negotiations. “The Paris agreement could be an exception or could become the norm for multilateral cooperation in the 21st century.”

Figueres said the negative effects of climate change exacerbate already complex problems, especially for the planet’s most vulnerable groups. Still, she outlined an optimistic view about the U.N.’s potential to successfully tackle some of the world’s most complicated problems, from alleviating extreme poverty to ensuring sustainable development to ending armed conflicts through peaceful means.

“Impossible is not a fact, it’s an attitude,” Figueres told reporters at a news conference following her nomination. “Because without optimism, the firm conviction that we, humans, are capable of overcoming problems that we ourselves have created, we cannot begin to advance. Without optimism there is no victory.”

Figueres called for strengthening the U.N.’s ability to prevent and respond to crises, and to implement her collaborative vision for diplomacy.

To achieve these goals, Figueres said the U.N. must be further strengthened with resources and personnel.

Her announcement was well received by climate change advocates, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Foreign Minister Manuel González and Environment Minister Edgar Gutiérrez honored Figueres’ achievement in Paris by submitting a bill to the National Assembly that would ratify the U.N. climate agreement.

Figueres admits weakness on security

While climate change and sustainable development issues are strengths for Figueres, she acknowledges that security issues are her weak points.

To clinch the secretary-general position, she will have to convince other world leaders that she’s a quick student — and do so with limited resources.

Foreign Minister Manuel González said Costa Rica would support her candidacy but mostly with the ministry’s current, limited resources. González said the Costa Rican government can’t afford to host galas or cover travel expenses, but that the country’s strong international reputation could be “more valuable than money.”

He said Figueres would likely need to travel to some of the five permanent Security Council nations — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States — for her campaign to be successful. These countries have veto power over a secretary-general nomination. Figueres’ campaign is turning to the public to crowdsource additional funds through her website, www.christianafigueres.com.

At the nomination ceremony for Figueres Thursday, President Luis Guillermo Solís outlined the qualities needed for a U.N. secretary-general.

“This person should show leadership capable of creating teams of collaborators with the skills and experience necessary to get results,” Solís said. “I believe she is that leader.”

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