Christiana Figueres: Businesses must put net-zero at heart of green recovery

EXCLUSIVE: Governments and businesses have an "enormous opportunity" to build decarbonisation principles into the Covid-19 recovery process, the former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has told edie.

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In a special episode of edie's #SustyTalk video interviews to kick off edie’s Net-Zero Week (18-22 May), Figueres explained that, whilst coronavirus and climate change have impacted society in very different ways, the focus should now be on taking a joined up approach to overcoming both of these crises.

“Nobody asked for these two crises to collide onto each other, but they have,” Figueres said. “Now, the responsibility we have is to make the solutions converge – that is really where we need to pay our attention.

“The costs of climate change, unless we do the right thing, could go up to $600trn. While the $15-20trn that has already been dedicated to economic recovery of Covid-19 is historic, the fact is that this is a trial run for what we would have to do if we don’t deal with climate change.”

Green recovery

Speaking to edie from her home country of Costa Rica – which, incidentally, has the lowest mortality rate in the Americas for Covid-19 cases – Figueres noted the opportunity that we now have to align decarbonisation efforts with the global recovery from the pandemic.

“The situation opens many possibilities for being more responsible on climate and emissions,” she said. “As we inject fresh money into the system; as the economy begins to move its wheels again, and as jobs begin to open up and be created – it is absolutely critical that both governments and businesses look at the increasing efficiency of carbon as being one of the design principles of the recovery process.

“If we do that, then we will be able to recover from this [Covid-19] crisis and prevent the worst of the climate crisis.”

Figueres’ comments come after hundreds of EU policymakers, businesses, industry leaders, NGOs and financiers joined forces for the Green Recovery Alliance – an informal coalition which seeks to place the European Green Deal at the heart of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan. The Alliance proposes that zero-carbon infrastructure and innovative solutions are the best and most cost-effective route to economic recovery – a sentiment that Figueres fully agrees with.

In the 15-minute video interview, the former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC went on to highlight the myriad opportunities that now exist to accelerate progress towards a truly sustainable, net-zero and just economy – from using technology in ways that reduce business travel, to redesigning cities in ways that enhance biodiversity and promote walking and cycling.

“We do not want to put ourselves in a situation of jumping out of the frying pan and falling into the raging fire of runaway climate change,” Figueres concluded. “This is an enormous opportunity to change the way we act, the way we work and the technologies we use in the world, and it is all entirely possible.”

Figueres, who famously led the 2015 Paris Agreement negotiations, now works as the co-founder of Global Optimism, an organisation dedicated to social and environmental change; and she continues to convene the Mission 2020 campaign which was established in 2017 to ensure global CO2 levels reduce by the so-called “climate turning point” this year.

Her latest book, The Future We Choose, recently topped edie’s list of eight must-read books for sustainability and energy professionals during lockdown. Read that full list of books here.


edie's Net-Zero Week 2020

This #SustyTalk interview with Christiana Figueres kicks off edie's Net-Zero Week 2020 (18-22 May) – a themed week of online content and events dedicated to supporting sustainability, energy and resource efficiency professionals on their journey to net-zero, and beyond. 

As well as exclusive interviews, features, reports and blogs, the Week includes three online events on the themes of business leadership (19 May), energy management (20 May) and resource efficiency (21 May).

View all of our Net-Zero Week content here.


edie staff



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