The Success of the Paris Climate Agreement: 4 TRICs of Christiana Figueres

Recently I had the great pleasure of meeting Chistiana Figueres. As Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, she was the driving force behind the Paris Agreement. I was wondering how she made the treaty a success, given the amount of players involved. What valuable lessons can we learn from her negotiation experience?

When I asked her what she had learned from the failed Copenhagen Summit six years earlier, she was crystal clear. She outlined the following four key insights, that she thought might be relevant to all of us.

  • Transparency: This is the basis for trust. Take time to share concerns and points of interest with the various players in the game. Especially outside of formal conversations. Take your time and be open about your motives and actions: put these on the table and discuss them.

  • Relationships: Invest in relationships. After the disappointment of Copenhagen, we first restored the relationships. This took a lot of time, but it was an investment in rebuilding trust and it needed to be successful. A lot of players felt frustrated, about all kinds of things. Because they could not find the right meeting room, for example. We understood that the devil is in the details and made sure that everything was arranged properly: the reception, accomodation, food, toilets, and so on. 

  • Inclusion: We wanted to include everyone in the process. Everyone mattered. Small and large players. Believer and non-believers. That was a major point in our plan of approach. That also took time, but it was well worth it. We tailored our way of approaching the different players to suit their needs. We proceeded differently in Africa than elsewhere, for example. The approach for the Copenhagen Summit, by contrast, was experienced as one driven by exclusion. Those who were reserved, were quickly labelled as an opponent and thus excluded from the process. Now we embraced the counterarguments, we took them into account and eventually we found a common ground.

  • Continuous Learning in the process: We came up with a process in which we constantly evaluated what went well and what could be improved. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but we had to comply with the UN Rules of Procedures at all times, otherwise we would’ve had a problem. We also learned that from Copenhagen. In that process we were also under a lot of time pressure, and we wanted to prevent that now so we designed the way to Paris differently. 

For me, Christiana Figueres is a wonderful example of a powerful, positive person who, even when things go wrong, labours on with her goal crystal clear: forging a treaty. When I asked her about her thoughts on America's withdrawal from the treaty, she answered with a smile: “I see no problem. Of course it's a shame, but look at what the States do themselves. It could be an incentive for the US to get started nevertheless and surprise us. But then again, I'm a stubborn optimist."

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