Getting 196 Countries To Agree On Climate Change Was ‘The Easy Part’

Now comes the real work.

01/20/2016 10:09 am ET | Updated Jan 20, 2016
  • Jo Confino Executive Editor, Impact & Innovation, The Huffington Post

DAVOS, Switzerland -- For all those who thought settling the Paris climate agreement was enough to lead to a low-carbon economy, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

This message comes from none other than Christiana Figueres, who was instrumental in bringing 196 countries together to agree on the framework to limit runaway global warming.

Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that while the talks were a success, "frankly, after 20 years of working towards that goal, that was the easy part."

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, she said it was now imperative to move from good words to action.

"We need to understand the clear signal from Paris and the clear risks and work out what are we all going to do," Figueres said, adding that global carbon emissions need to peak within the next five to 10 years.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, she said it was time for everyone to act to reduce climate change.

Everyone on the planet needs to rethink how they live their lives, she said.

Most of her attention focused on the oil, gas and coal companies. They need to switch their enormous resources into developing renewable energy, she said, and not just worry about their assets. She noted that fossil fuel reserves already far exceed the carbon budget to avoid the planet warming by 2 degrees Celsius.

But Figueres also believes all citizens need to become more thoughtful about their choices, as everything from the food we eat to the clothes we buy affects carbon emissions.

"All that has become perilous," she said.

Even the companies and investors that have been bringing sustainability into the heart of their operations need to step up, she said. 

"My father said if things are going badly, continue in the battle, and if things are going well, find another battle," she said. "Everyone has agreed on the direction of travel so the next battle is to speed up along that direction of travel. The strength of Paris is that it builds a broad highway and allows countries to choose their lane of choice. The same is true is for everyone else."

Doug McMillon, the CEO of American multinational retailer Walmart, shared the stage with Figueres. She addressed him at one point, saying, "Walmart has been in the fast lane for a long time. Now the challenge is moving from the fast lane to the faster lane."

McMillon responded by saying the breadth, not just speed, of change is important, from the way farmers produce agricultural good to the way factories in Walmart's supply chain use energy. 

Good-quality data is becoming increasingly important in order to monitor what is happening across the company's core operations and its many thousands of suppliers, he added. Better information coming from the increasing use of sensors is allowing the company to understand which factories are most productive, which suppliers offered the best employment terms, and which companies it works with are taking toxins out of their products.

More from the World Economic Forum 2016:

CONVERSATIONS