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Aftenposten “Our Planet” Climate Summit

Oslo, 14 October 2015


Statement by
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change



Ladies and Gentlemen,


Let me tonight address three questions with you. The first is, “What is different today in 2015 between now and where we were in 2009 two months before the Copenhagen COP, which is where we are now – two months before the Paris COP?” Question number two is, “Is what is being constructed in Paris enough?” And question number three is, “That which is being constructed, what does it actually mean for a country like Norway?”

So to question number one. What is different between 2015 and 2009? So many things are different that we could be here all night, but since we don’t want to be here all night, let me choose my top five differences.

There is not one single country that has not already suffered the negative impacts of climate change one way or the other. Whether it’s excessive wildfires, whether it's droughts, whether it's floods, whatever the many different impacts, there is not one country that is exempt, and hence the negative impact and the awareness of the growing risks is much greater today than it was six years ago. That’s on the negative ledger.

On the positive ledger – difference number two. Technology has moved tremendously. Solar technology has come down 80% in cost and since 2008 has gone up 40% in efficiency. And wind not so dramatically, but following the same pattern. So the technological solutions for climate change, including huge investments in battery storage plus many other technological solutions, are much closer today than they were six years ago.

Difference number three – policy at the national level. Can you believe that in 2009,  just a few weeks or months before Copenhagen, in total in the entire world, we had 40, and only 40, legislations or regulations that had anything to do with climate – most of them not even climate, broad climate, just energy efficiency or renewable energy? Today we have ten times as much, at least 400 policy regulations or legislations, some of them as broad as covering the entire field of climate change around the world, so a much stronger regulatory base at the national level upon which we can build the international regulatory framework.

Difference number four – finance. Last year, already over $200 billion was invested in renewable energy, and growing. This year, just a couple of weeks ago, a very, very important announcement from international investors and individual wealthy celebrities, saying they understand the risks enough to know that they together are shifting not millions or billions of dollars, but trillions... $2.6 trillion being shifted from old technology to new technology. Now we are beginning to get to the scale that we need to get to, shifting trillions of dollars into a completely different kind of infrastructure.

And finally the fifth difference, and the one that for me is most fundamentally important and is making most of the difference now, is a growing awareness both on the part of governments but also on the part of corporations and of the financial sector and of the insurance sector – which is the sector that feels this pain more than anybody else, because  it goes straight to their pocket – a growing realisation among all of these stakeholders that actually it is in their enlightened self-interest to act on climate change, that there are many more arguments for acting than not acting.

You could say that this comes 20 or 30 or 40 years too late. Granted. But it is finally here. I am finally beginning to hear from governments who say, “It's actually in my interests because I want water security, I want energy security, I want food security, I want better health”.

So it’s a completely different world from where we were in 2009. Fortunately, all that together means that we actually have a very good chance of a reasonably powerful agreement in Paris.

Now to my second question:  “Is what we are building in Paris enough”? In German there is a very helpful word Jein which means both yes and no. The answer to the question is both yes and no. Let me start with the no’s.

There are two reasons why what is being prepared for Paris is not enough. The first, that we all need to keep in mind, is that the only thing that Paris will address is future emissions. We are not addressing the concentration of gases already in the atmosphere, the effects of which we have only started to feel. So even in the wildest imagination, of the wildest successes in Paris, the atmosphere is already loaded and we will continue to feel the increasing negative impacts of climate change, in particular upon developing countries that are the least responsible. So the fundamental injustice of climate change remains.

The second reason why Paris is not enough is because of those efforts that are being put forward on the part of currently 151 countries who have already submitted their climate change plans – and I expect a few more by the end of the year – covering 86% of greenhouse gas emissions, with pretty detailed outlines of what they intend to do. The good news on that is that it reflects their interests and there is a huge driving force to get those policies and measures in place. The negative part is that with the sum total of all 151 – and even if we had 195, which is the total number of countries we deal with – we still would not be on a two degree pathway, let alone under two degrees or 1.5, which is what the most vulnerable countries need.

So let this be a very public recognition. I don’t want any member of the press to come to Paris and all of a sudden say, “Ah! I’ve just discovered something! Eureka. Paris is not putting us on the two degree path”. I will chop the head off of that journalist because I’ve been saying it for two years. Paris will not get us on the path to two degrees.

So why are we even making the effort for Paris if it's not going to get us right away on two degrees? The reason we are making this effort, and the reason why all these countries have gone through the unprecedented analysis, economic, political and technical analysis about how they are going to contribute to this, is because this is recognised as the floor of effort – but certainly not the ceiling.

This is being recognised as building a pathway that is going to be increased over time, hopefully every five years, although that period has not been agreed yet, when hopefully countries will come together to analyse, “Are we actually doing enough or not”? And they will have to increase. The way that this is being built allows for huge flexibility so that everybody can play to their strengths and there can be a lot of differentiation, which is necessary because we have completely different economies in the world. But everybody is on one highway, taking them in one direction, climate neutrality, and everybody can engage differently.

You can have a different vehicle of engagement if you want. You can have economy-wide targets, you can have sector-wide targets, you can have intensity targets – that’s all fine. But everybody's vehicle will only have one direction; there is no marcha atrás as we say in Spanish, no reverse gear. Everybody moves forward and nobody exits the highway. So that’s a very different construct to what we were trying to put together in Copenhagen. It has many weaknesses. But it has the strength that it has everybody moving together to address this issue.

To my third question, “What does this mean for a country like Norway”? Well I come from Costa Rica, and in order to understand what this means for countries I would like to compare Norway and Costa Rica – two, you might say, completely different countries. 

We have the same population, five million. We have extraordinarily well-educated people – many of them sitting right here. We have fundamental long-standing care for our forested areas. We have had a climate tax – a carbon tax to be more specific – since the 1990s. Norway first in 1991, Costa Rica second in 1994. We copied it from you – thank you very much. And we are two countries that are fundamentally different in many different ways.

Costa Rica is a developing country with no fossil fuel resources. We import for fossil fuel transportation. We generate, just like Norway, all of our electricity from renewables, but we do import for transportation. Our income base is tourism and high tech. Our challenge as we move toward climate neutrality is the transformation of our tourist sector. We want to offer every single one of you climate-neutral tourism when you come to Costa Rica. And that means that we need to go through the entire value chain of tourism and make sure that we have that product to offer you. That's a fundamental transformation in Costa Rica’s main income.

Norway – main income fossil fuels, exports. What is the challenge for Norway? Again, like Costa Rica, a fundamental transformation of the main income base of the country. Now, you will argue, two very different income bases – yes. But none of us are responsible for that – that’s just what Nature gave us. Costa Rica was given no fossil fuels, no minerals, no wonderful metals, no nothing – just beautiful nature and beautiful people. Norway was given fossil fuels and beautiful people. Now we have to start from where we are, right?

Norway has benefited from the export of fossil fuels for 50 years, yes? Not your fault. It is absolutely something that you had to do. Now the challenge is not to look back but to look forward. Norway is not the only country that needs to do that transformation. There are many developing countries that need to pull their people out of poverty and their only income base is fossil fuels. What are they going to do?

There are many other industrialised countries that also have the same natural resource base, and they need to transform. So it seems to me that the opportunity that Costa Rica and Norway share is once again to be models in the world. Costa Rica has been a model of peace and democracy and many other things for many years. Norway has been a model of many different evolutions in society, in economics, in politics. Here we are, faced with yet another challenge. And Norway can be an inspiration.

Norway must figure out what the transition is beyond oil and gas, not in one or two years, not abruptly, but certainly in the medium term, because we will be using some fossil fuels in the long term, but they are going to be very few. It will depend on how much absorption we have. Ultimately, both Costa Rica and Norway are committed to climate neutrality. And what that means, my friends, is that we will have to get to the point to restore the ecological balance that we lost many years ago, where we will only emit as much greenhouse gases as the Earth can naturally handle.

We are a long way from that, but that is a shared aspiration, not only of Costa Rica and Norway but of many other countries also. And I hope an increasingly accelerating aspiration, because if there’s one thing that we do not have, it’s time. This transformation needs to occur now. I take hope from the fact that I see this transformation already occurring. I see it occurring in finance. I see it occurring in technology. I see it occurring in policy. I see it occurring in political will. So the transformation – if you want to call it a revolution I am very happy to call it a revolution, I am a daughter of a revolutionary and I feel very comfortable with revolutions – is a powerful revolution that we have here, and one that has already started.

And it is one that is being guided by a few principles that I think are important to remember.

The first is that we must respect each other’s differences – what point in our economic development we are at and what we can contribute – because the contributions are very different. So respect for our differences is fundamental to an effective revolution.

The second is to understand that yes, we can do a lot individually as countries, but we can do more together. That’s the reason why the US and China came to an agreement, why Germany and Brazil came to an agreement, why China and the European Union came to an agreement. Because everybody understands that we can do something on our own, but we can do much better if we cooperate and we collaborate across the national regions.

The third principle that is absolutely critical is that while all these contributions need to be nationally determined, because they need to make sense for each national economy, they also need to be globally responsible. So that is the challenge there. How do you put together a set of nationally determined contributions and responses and make those collectively globally responsible?

And the fourth principle that accompanies this very powerful, quiet revolution is one that I haven’t heard this whole night, and I fully agree with, in all the science that has been referred to here on this stage.

It is not the physical planet that is being most affected by this. It is the human beings on this planet. It will continue, maybe in changed forms because of what we have done, but the planet will continue. What is fundamental and what should guide us? The North Star and Norway, the name stands for the Way to the North – the North Star that has to guide us is: “Did we do enough to protect the most vulnerable populations?”

It is the most vulnerable populations around the world who are most affected, and least responsible for climate change. It is also the most vulnerable populations – those generations still to come are not responsible, and they will feel the highest impact if we don’t do our job.

So my friends, let me finish by saying when I don’t sleep, here is what I see. I see seven pairs of dark eyes in front of me, seven pairs of eyes, seven generations asking, “What did you do?” All of us have to face that question: “What did you do?”

My invitation is that all of us take that question to heart. Accept your personal responsibility, so that you can answer the question with pride and with your heads high: “What did you do?”

Thank you.

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Please note: This is prepared text of the speech and may differ from the delivered version.

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