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Christiana Figueres poses for a photo with (l to r) Chancellor Motley, Dean Cash, Professor Ivanova, and Provost Winston Langley.
April 10, 2016

Christiana Figueres, architect of Paris Agreement, returns


  • Boston
Christiana Figueres discussed the current turning point in the battle against rising temperatures and the new spirit of global cooperation.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a major architect of last year’s groundbreaking Paris Agreement, returned to UMass Boston on Wednesday. She discussed the current turning point in the battle against rising temperatures and the new spirit of global cooperation that is speeding progress toward a sustainable future.

Figueres spoke to a packed house in the replica Senate chamber at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, located on campus. Her address was part of the new “Climate at a Crossroads” speaker series sponsored by UMass Boston’s Sustainable Solutions Lab.

“We are at a point in history where national policies and actions have planetary repercussions,” Figueres said. “We can no longer enact policy that perhaps lifts millions in one country, if that benefit comes at the cost of billions around the world. That is fundamentally the message of the Paris Agreement.”

Indeed, the agreement was made possible by a new philosophy of intercontinental collaboration. One hundred ninety-five nations unanimously approved the terms of the Paris Agreement at the historic COP21 summit in December. The signing nations are as “distinct from each other as anything you’ve ever seen,” Figueres said, but all of them recognized the need to act.

Associate Professor Maria Ivanova, who introduced Figueres at Wednesday’s event, said much had changed since the 2009 COP meeting in Copenhagen, when nations could not agree on the cause of climate change or a path toward mitigation. She credited Figueres with changing attitudes on climate change.

“This tectonic shift happened because of unprecedented leadership,” Ivanova said. “Christiana Figueres began changing the narrative about climate change from one of sacrifice to one of opportunity. And she triggered a race to the top. She articulated a moral imperative to act.”

Figueres is by now a familiar face at UMass Boston. She first visited in 2013 as the speaker at the annual Slomoff Lecture, then delivered the commencement address at UMass Boston’s 46th annual ceremony in May 2014.