The Weight of the World: Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or U.N.F.C.C.C., has by now been ratified by a hundred and ninety-five countries, which, depending on how you count, represents either all the countries in the world or all the countries and then some. Every year, the treaty stipulates, the signatories have to hold a meeting—a gathering that’s known as a COP, short for Conference of the Parties. The third COP produced the Kyoto Protocol, which, in turn, gave rise to another mandatory gathering, a MOP, or Meeting of the Parties. The seventeenth COP, which coincided with the seventh MOP, took place in South Africa. There it was decided that the work of previous COPs and MOPs had been inadequate, and a new group was formed—the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, usually referred to as the A.D.P. The A.D.P. subsequently split into A.D.P.-1 and A.D.P.-2, each of which held meetings of its own. The purpose of the U.N.F.C.C.C. and of the many negotiating sessions and working groups and protocols it has spun off over the years is to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” In climate circles, this is usually shortened to D.A.I. In plain English, it means global collapse.
The Framework Convention on Climate Change is overseen by an organization known as the Secretariat, which is led by a Costa Rican named Christiana Figueres. Figueres is five feet tall, with short brown hair and strikingly different-colored eyes—one blue and one hazel. In contrast to most diplomats, who cultivate an air of professional reserve, Figueres is emotive to the point of disarming—“a mini-volcano” is how one of her aides described her to me. She laughs frequently—a hearty, ha-ha-ha chortle—and weeps almost as often. “I walk around with Kleenex,” another aide told me.