Christiana Figueres is Back: Former Climate Chief Leads Coalition of 7000 Mayors

Former UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. Photo: Al Jazeera
Former UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. Photo: Al Jazeera

Her remarkable, optimistic leadership style has been credited with helping deliver the historic Paris climate accord. A year later, Christiana Figueres helps lead the global coalition of mayors who want to see it implemented.

Yesterday, (1 December) the former UN climate chief was announced as the vice chair of the new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. It is expected she will play a key role in running the coalition of more than 7000 mayors.

“Cities are where the future is created,” Figueres tweeted after the announcement and said she is looking forward to her role in the new coalition. Figueres will work closely with former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, the co-chairs of the covenant.

On its website, the coalition says it represents the strongest and clearest signal to national governments that cities are not only acting to stop the effects of climate change, but that they are leading  – and leading together. In another Tweet, Figueres put it like this: “National governments have set the direction. Cities will set the pace.”

Known for her mantra “impossible is not a fact, it is an attitude,” Figueres was put forward as a candidate for UN secretary general by her home country Costa Rica earlier this year. Although the position went to Portugal, her optimistic campaign helped draw more attention to the selection process. Since, Figueres has also started the Mission 2020 initiative to push for climate action before the end of this decade.

Steering Climate Action Forward

Figueres’ new appointment was announced on Twitter by Maroš Šefčovič, who tweeted that she will continue “to steer climate action forward.”

The covenant should be “city-driven and city-led,” Šefčovič also said on Twitter, as he announced the other members of the coalition’s board, the mayors of Atlanta, USA; Cape Town, South Africa; Chefchaouen, Morocco; Paris, France; Quito, Ecuador; Rajkot, India; Seoul, South Korea; Surabaya, Indonesia and Vancouver, Canada.

The EU Commission vice-president tweeted he is glad to have Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, on the covenant’s board, calling her a “true leader in fighting climate change.” Patricia Espinosa, Figueres’ successor at the United Nations, will act as an observer and adviser to the covenant’s board.

Climate-KIC, the EU’s climate innovation initiative, tweeted that Figueres’ appointment is “fantastic news for climate action,” and pointed to her “no results without optimism” leadership style. Climate-KIC has a special focus on cities through programmes such as Smart Sustainable Districts and its Building Technologies Accelerator.

600 Million People

The Global Covenant of Mayors is the largest-ever global coalition of cities committed to fighting climate change. The initiative is supported by the European Commission and was founded earlier this year following a merger between the EU’s Covenant of Mayors and the UN-led Compact of Mayors.

The new coalition brings together cities from close to 120 countries across six continents. The cities represent more than 600 million people, over 8 per cent of the world’s population.

During the COP22 climate summit in Marrakesh last month, the European Commission announced it is also setting up a separate North American chapter of the covenant as the first of more such regional coalitions. The announcement gained an extra dimension because of the election of climate change sceptic Donald Trump as the next US president a week earlier.

Climate-KIC is already working with cities across North America. Last month, cities like Washington D.C., Toronto and Puebla took part in the global Climathon, a 24-hour hackathon to find local climate change solutions.

Low Carbon City Lab, another Climate-KIC programme, is helping Mexico City create its first green bonds to fund sustainable infrastructure.

Interested in making cities more sustainable? Check out Climate-KIC’s Smart Sustainable Districts and Building Technology Accelerator programmes.

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