BUSINESS
01/27/2016 03:01 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2016

How Women Became Stars In The Battle Against Climate Change

Seriously, this is beautiful.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Eiffel Tower, Paris.

When great danger beckons, we are forced to confront what is most important in our lives.

That search always comes to rest in the power of love

This was certainly the case during the all-important global talks to prevent runaway climate change in Paris last December.

In a series of interviews last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, key players who helped forge the unprecedented climate agreement told The Huffington Post of how the energy of love, vested in a sense of our common humanity, was instrumental in breaking deadlocks in the negotiations and in helping politicians to see beyond narrow national self-interests.

The expression of that love was focused by a small group of powerful and dedicated women at the very center of the negotiations.

They include Christiana Figueres, who led the talks on behalf of the United Nations, Rachel Kyte, who was at that time the World Bank’s special envoy on climate change, Laurence Tubiana, who co-ordinated the negotiations on behalf of French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, and Mary Robinson, the former Irish president chosen by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as his special envoy to mobilize political will and action ahead of the Paris talks.

Here, four of the important figures from the climate negotiations explain the untold story of how love really did change the course of history:

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES

U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.
PETER PARKS via Getty Images
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Figueres, who led the climate talks for six years and is credited with having been instrumental in getting 196 countries to join forces for the first time in history, was feted in Davos as a returning hero.

Presidents, CEOs, heads of global institutions and union leaders repeatedly came up to her and thanked her personally for having helped “save the world.” But she rejects such a notion.

Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, says the reason the negotiations succeeded was because enough people were able to recognize and respond to a sense of humanity’s collective purpose.

“They're not really saying thank you to Christiana, they're saying thank you to themselves,” Figueres told HuffPost. “Because all of us want to do the right thing, and we were all feeling so paralyzed for so many years."

A critical mass of people in every sector, in every geography, at every age, with every conviction actually decided to rise to their higher purpose. Christiana Figueres

"We all wanted to do the right thing, we all wanted to walk in this direction, but there was this negativity that was paralyzing us," she continued, "and to have shifted collectively, shifted the global mood on climate change from being impossible to now being unstoppable, irresistible, is actually a fantastic transformation, and it's only done because a critical mass of people in every sector, in every geography, at every age, with every conviction actually decided that that's what they wanted to do. They wanted to rise to their higher purpose.”

Figueres is absolutely clear that moving away from self-interest to a collective sense of love was vital.

She said: “It's love for the planet, for our home, it's love for each other, it's love for those who we know, and we love very intensely because they're in our sphere. But it's also love for all of those people that we will never know, people who are alive today who we will never meet, people who are going to join us in the future and we will never meet."

“It's touching that piece of deep humanity in us," she added. "Maybe you call that love. People have many definitions for love, but fundamentally it is, and I think that's why everyone is so happy, because everyone in this has shown that they can touch that most sacred part of them and be able to align what they do in the world with what they know to be true of themselves. It's a fantastic transformation.”

RACHEL KYTE

Rachel Kyte.
TONY KARUMBA via Getty Images
Rachel Kyte.

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change during the years running up to the Paris agreement, says the energy that arose during the Paris talks was akin to the fierce love a woman has when it comes to protecting her children.

She also points to the key women involved in the negotiations as having moved beyond point-scoring to recognizing that a future for humanity could only be secured by working together.

Kyte, who led the World Bank’s work on climate change adaptation, mitigation, finance and disaster risk and resilience, says a “remarkable set of women” worked their way toward positions of influence across government, global institutions, civil society and business.

Some men accused the women of forming a secret club, but Kyte rejects such a notion.

So what difference did they make?

“I do think that there is something, you know, really base as a woman,” she told HuffPost. “There's a fierce protectiveness of your family. Of your children, if you have them, of those that are close to you. There is something visceral as a woman, where you will come out and you will do anything to defend. And I think that there's a piece of that which is threatened by climate change and there is a feeling that you know this is something that we must fight for, that we must protect. So I think that does come through."

“I do think that there's something really rooted in your womanhood that came through," she said. "Now, that's not to say that women get it and men don't, right. But I think that unleashing that power, that urgency, that sense of 'to hell with it, we've got to find a way to get this done, which ever way it is,' I think that impatience came through.”

Very rarely have there been sufficient numbers of women in positions that could influence the outcome. There was a real feeling that we have to support each other. Rachel Kyte

Kyte, who has now taken on the position as special representative to the U.N. secretary-general and also serves as CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, says that the key role that women played in the Paris climate negotiations was to move the agenda away from competition to collaboration.

She said: “I think what happened is that there was, at a certain point, a tacit agreement among many of us that we may be positionally in disagreement with each other on some of the details of the agenda, but we all needed and wanted a very strong climate agreement, and we all needed and wanted progress. And that we wouldn't chop each other down in order to get there."

“And that trust building and that confidence building is actually old-fashioned diplomacy," she noted. "But very rarely have there been sufficient numbers of women in positions that could influence the outcome. There was a real feeling that we have to support each other."

“I mean Christina [Figueres] needed to be supported because that was an awesome job that she was taking on; Laurence Tubiana had to be supported because she was taking on an awesome responsibility for the planet and for all of us," said Kyte. "And I think that the way we did it will be as important a story as what happened in Paris. That you had this coming together, but we were all on the same side, that everybody's is in an incredible story.”

NIGEL TOPPING

Nigel Topping, the chief executive of We Mean Business, a coalition of hundreds of the world’s biggest and most progressive companies, refers to the “diplomacy of love” as having been critical to the success of the talks.

“I don't mean love in a kind of wishy-washy sense, but in a sense of real commitment to the whole, to the healing, to something bigger than the individual,” he told HuffPost.

He said bringing the feminine into the diplomacy has been really important and that it helped foster “a different type of, and broader diplomacy, one that doesn't just concentrate on the nation state and the negotiation of articles, but which is more inclusive of many more stakeholders and listens much more to the heart of all of the stakeholders.”

When we can have enough self-confidence to drop the mask and show up with the whole of our mind and heart, that can really be transformative. Nigel Topping

Topping believes the power of the feminine was also very present in many of the men who were pushing for an agreement. That resulted in them looking beyond an egoic need to compete and fostering the power of collaboration.

“I think it's about showing up as whole, as being whole humans,” he said. “We all do sometimes, and some of us all the time, show up as the mask, as the CEO or the chief editor of HuffPost or We Mean Business. ... We're not being the whole of ourselves. We're not bringing the whole of ourselves, not all of the kind of complicated, beautiful, multi-vested selves."

“I think when we can have enough self-confidence to drop the mask and show up with the whole of our mind and heart, that can really be transformative," he added. "It requires risk-taking and generosity to open up to collaboration, but also allows a holding on to our kind of collective higher purpose.”

SHARAN BURROW

Sharan Burrow, president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sharan Burrow, president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Sharan Burrow is the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has more than 180 million members around the world.

Like other women leaders who were in Paris pressing for a worldwide agreement to keep global temperature change to within a 2-degree Celsius rise, she says the role of women was crucial.

She says the ability of these women to see the world from a collective understanding was important in driving a common agenda.

“When you have a woman leader like Christiana [Figueres], Mary Robinson in the mix, Rachel Kyte driving the World Bank. ... It's pretty easy to get a group of women who say, it's time, and we're gonna coalesce around a different world,” Burrow told HuffPost.

You can't have self-interest. It has to be common interest. And it's about enthusiasm and just sheer determination. Sharan Burrow

“It's about conviction that we can actually find the solutions, and we need each other to find the solutions," she said. "You can't have self-interest. It has to be common interest. And it's about enthusiasm and just sheer determination. I love the women who've been involved in the climate mix, and together I think we've shown that we can forge a coalition and we can bring others into it. So at Paris, you had business, investors, trade unions, civil society united as never before. And I think that drove leaders to say, ‘Well, we no longer have any option.'"

“So yes, we can say, 'Look, the agreement wasn't strong enough here or there.' But frankly, with that and the sustainable development goal decision, we're on a course to zero carbon, zero poverty, and there are now too many of us to say this can be stopped," she added.

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