The head of the Cancun climate talks fought back tears in a meeting with youth activists on Wednesday, as she frankly admitted the insufficient ambition of global leaders to protect the future. Christiana Figueres, who replaced Yvo de Boer as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change following last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen, teared up as she considered her responsibility to her daughters and the youth of the world. She told the activists, part of Tck Tck Tck’s Adopt a Negotiator program, that the Cancun negotiations will be “insufficient” and that “nothing will be highly ambitious,” because of the economic and political constraints. But she believes that “each one of use has the moral responsibility to do the absolute best that we can.” Asked what inspires her to lead the effort despite the challenges, she choked up as she answered that it is “the next generation”:
It’s you. It’s the next generation. Look: We’re doing this but this has nothing to do with us. It’s all about you. It’s all about you. We’re the ones that have caused the problem but you’re the ones that are going to have to pay for it, right? The fact is, I’m the mother of two women about your age, and I realized many years ago that I had inherited a planet that was a diminished planet. And that if I didn’t do something about it, my daughters would grow up in a planet that had been severely diminished by what we’re doing. And I just can’t look at my daughters in the eyes and not do whatever I can.
So, it’s you. It’s about the kind of planet that you’re going to have. It’s honestly not my planet. It’s yours, okay? We borrowed it from you for a few minutes. But you will take it over very soon, because it’s yours. And you’re going to have to give it over to your children.
Honestly, there’s no perfect job here, okay? Nothing that we are going to do in Cancun is going to be perfect. Don’t expect perfection. Nothing is going to be highly ambitious. Nothing. Everything here is going to be one step, and everything is going to be insufficient. But it is the best that this group of people in these circumstances, with these political constraints, in this economic environment, can do for the time being. And as soon as this finishes we have to start pushing for the next step. And so it goes. But each one of us that is here has the moral responsibility to do the absolute best that we can at that moment under those circumstances. So what inspires me? It’s you.
“We can’t let something like Copenhagen ever happen again,” Figueres said, reflecting earlier comments that expectations for a comprehensive, total agreement is a guarantee for failure in the UNFCCC process.