Can This Woman Stop Climate Change In Its Tracks?

Photo: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images.
Christiana Figueres is the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Here's something that will make you think twice about complaining about your post-holiday workload: Christiana Figueres is spending this week on an assignment that could actually alter the future of the Earth.

Figueres is the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In other words, she's the head U.N. negotiator as world leaders gather in Paris to try to hammer out an agreement that could save the planet.

"Never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few," she told delegates as the conference began, according to the BBC. "The world is looking to you. The world is counting on you."

Major issues up for debate
during the two weeks of talks include goals to limit the rise of temperatures worldwide and cut carbon emissions. Agreeing to a plan that can get the sign-on and support of countries big and small is no easy feat — the last attempt to craft an international deal on climate change failed to deliver.

But Figueres has no shortage of the experience needed to help make the agreement happen. The 59-year-old diplomat and mother of two is no stranger to the world of high-stakes international politics. Her father and brother both served as president of her native Costa Rica. Her mother was a legislator and an ambassador.

She's represented Costa Rica in U.N. climate talks for two decades. And her passion on the issue shines through. Aides have been known to call her "a mini-volcano," according to a New Yorker profile published earlier this year.

Figueres' answer to why the world should care about climate change, for example, isn't lacking in the zeal department.

"Because they need to care about the quality of their life. Because they need to care about the quality of their children's. Because they need to care about justice in the world. Because they need to understand that we cannot eat today at the cost of what other people are going to eat tomorrow," she said in one video interview released by an arm of the U.N. "It is simple as that. It is a question of being human and having a moral compass that fortunately is also accompanied by an economic and a political benefit. But, first of all, we need to be guided by a moral compass."

With the future of the Earth on the line, the key question in the coming days is whether that moral compass — and Figueres' expertise — will guide leaders to an agreement that will help preserve the environment for generations to come.

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