Christiana Figueres

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Christiana Figueres
Christiana Figueres 2011.jpg
Personal details
Born Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen
(1956-08-07) August 7, 1956 (age 59)
San José, Costa Rica
Spouse(s) Konrad von Ritter
Children Naima, Yihana
Alma mater Swarthmore College
London School of Economics
Profession Global climate change analyst

Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen (born August 7, 1956) is a Costa Rican diplomat. She was appointed executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on May 17, 2010, succeeding Yvo de Boer.[1][2] Figueres had been a member of the Costa Rican negotiating team since 1995, involved in both UNFCCC[3] and Kyoto Protocol[4] negotiations. She has contributed to the design of key climate change models.[5] She is a prime promoter of Latin America’s active participation in the Convention,[6] a frequent public speaker,[7] and a widely published author.[8]

Early life[edit]

Figueres was born in San José, Costa Rica. Her father, José Figueres Ferrer, was President of Costa Rica [9]three times. Figueres’ mother, Karen Olsen Beck, served as Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel in 1982 and was a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1990–1994. The couple had four children. Figueres' older brother José Figueres Olsen, was also President of Costa Rica (1994–1998).

Growing up in La Lucha, Figueres attended the local Cecilia Orlich grammar school. She moved to the German Humboldt Schule in the capital and later graduated from Lincoln High School. She travelled to England for a year of A Level studies before entering Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. As part of her studies in anthropology, she lived in Bribri, Talamanca, a remote indigenous village in the Southeastern plateau of Costa Rica for one year, designing a culturally-sensitive literacy program which was used by the Ministry of Education for several years.

Figueres joined botanist Dr. Russell Seibert to improve nutritional conditions in Western Samoa using highly nutritious plants.[citation needed] She then went to the London School of Economics for a master’s degree in social anthropology and graduated in 1981. She met her husband, Konrad von Ritter, in London during this time.[citation needed]

Professional experience[edit]

Figueres began her public service career as Minister Counselor at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Bonn, Germany, from 1982 to 1985.[10] She directed the work of all departments of the Embassy, and re-negotiated the terms of technical assistance, development finance and cooperation between both countries.[11]

Returning to Costa Rica in 1987, Figueres was named Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Planning.[12] There she designed and directed the negotiation of comprehensive financial and technical cooperation programs with eight European countries (total investment US $90 million), and supervised the evaluation of all national technical and financial assistance requests. A year later she was made Chief of Staff to the Minister of Agriculture.[13] She supervised the execution of 22 national programs involving training, credit and marketing[14] (credit portfolio US $200 million). She reorganized the Minister’s Bureau for greater teamwork and productivity, and designed coordination strategies among three major public institutions in the sector, eliminating duplications of services and contradictions in policy.

In 1989 Figueres moved with her husband to Washington DC, and for several years devoted herself to the upbringing of their two daughters, Naima born in March 1988 and Yihana born in December 1989. At the same time she pursued her interest in institutional re-structuring and effectiveness building by first attaining the Certification in Organization Development from Georgetown University in 1991, and then the Certificate in Organization and Systems Design from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland in 1993.

In 1994, Figueres re-entered professional life and became the Director of the Technical Secretariat of the Renewable Energy in the Americas (REIA) program, today housed at the Organization of the American States (OAS). She promoted hemispheric policies to advance the use of renewable energy technologies in Latin America, identifying barriers to investment and possible solutions. She developed coordination mechanisms among various US and Latin American agencies active in the field through close working relationships with the governments and private sectors of Chile, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and Central America.[15]

Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas (CSDA)[edit]

In 1995 Figueres founded and became the Executive Director[16] of the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting the participation of Latin American countries[17] in the Climate Change Convention. Figueres developed and led the four programs of the Center:[18] capacity building, policy reform, project preparation and carbon finance. Some of her main accomplishments include:

  • Conceived and established the first ever carbon finance program in the developing world: the Latin American Carbon Program (PLAC) within the Andean Development Corporation (CAF). 1999
  • Successfully negotiated the first emission reduction purchase agreement between an industrialized country and a regional development bank. The agreement assigned the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) 45 million EUROs to purchase emission reductions in Latin America on behalf of the Government of the Netherlands. 2001[19]
  • Designed and performed capacity building activities on Climate Change, sustainable energy and conservation for over five hundred professionals from the public and private sectors, as well as from civil society throughout Latin America. 1995–2003[20]
  • Envisioned and helped establish national climate change programs in Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.1998–2007[6]
  • Envisioned and supervised the creation of the first electronic climate change information system specializing on the Clean Development Mechanism.
  • Supervised the preparation of six greenhouse gas reduction projects in the energy and industry sectors, all approved by US Initiative of Joint Implementation.[21]
  • Conceived and lead the preparation of FOCADES, an innovative fund for the promotion of biodiversity and clean energy projects in Central America, with a total capitalization of $15 million. 1995

International negotiator[edit]

Representing the Government of Costa Rica,[22][23] Christiana Figueres has been a negotiator of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change since 1995.[24][25] In 1997 she provided critical international strategy for achieving developing country support and approval of the Kyoto Protocol and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). From 2007 to 2009 she was Vice President of the Bureau[26] of the Climate Convention, in representation of Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the years she has chaired numerous international negotiations:[27]

Chair of the Contact Group on Guidance to the CDM Executive Board: Nairobi, December 2006;[28] Poznan, December 2008;[29] Copenhagen, December 2009.[30]

Chair of the Contact Group on flexibility mechanisms for the post 2012 regime, Bonn in June 2008,[31] Accra, Ghana[32] in August 2008, and Poznan in December 2008.[29]

Member of the Friends of the Chair Group that negotiated the Bali Action Plan for long term cooperative action of all nations, Bali, Indonesia, December 2007.[33]

Programmatic CDM[edit]

Aware that developing countries would need an additional incentive to undertake mitigation efforts that go beyond traditional single-site CDM projects into the promotion of climate friendly policies and measures, in 2002 Figueres proposed a “Sectoral CDM” under which developing countries would be encouraged to develop regional or sectoral projects that may be the result of specific sustainable development policies. In 2005 she published a groundbreaking study proposing “programmatic CDM” whereby emission reductions are achieved not by one single site, but rather by multiple actions executed over time as the result of a government measure or a voluntary program.[34] She conceived Programmatic CDM as a way to mobilize mitigation activities that are highly dispersed and directly benefit the user, such as distributed renewable energy and end use energy efficiency, thereby bringing the benefit of the CDM to the household and small/medium enterprise level.[35] Programmatic CDM not only expands the sustainable development impact of the CDM, it also allows the scaling up of emission reduction activities in all sectors while reducing transaction costs, and enables the transition to more ambitious developing country emission reduction programs.

In December 2005 Figueres took the idea to the COP/MOP 1 in Montreal,[36] and achieved support for it on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. She then took the lead of negotiating the concept with the various groups of industrialized countries, finally attaing a COP/MOP decision to allow “programs of activities”[37] in the CDM (paragraph 20 of Decision CMP.1).[38] Two years later, as member of the CDM Executive Board, she achieved consensus on the rules and procedures for the submission of “programs of activities” in the CDM.[39][40] Programmatic CDM is today recognized as one of the most innovative reforms of the CDM, and one which holds the potential of promoting the adoption of climate friendly policies in developing countries.

Private sector[edit]

Christiana Figueres has not only been active in the public arena and in the field of NGOs, she also collaborates actively with private sector companies that align themselves with climate friendly goals. Ms. Figueres served as Senior Adviser to C-Quest Capital, a carbon finance company focusing on programmatic CDM investments.[41] She was the Principal Climate Change Advisor to ENDESA Latinoamérica, the largest private utility in Latin America with operations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. She was also Vice Chair of the Rating Committee of the Carbon Rating Agency, the first entity to apply credit rating expertise to carbon assets.[42][43]


Figueres speaking at Chatham House in October 2012

Figueres is a frequent lecturer on climate policy[44][45][46][47][48] and negotiations at academic institutions including Yale University, University of Chicago, Georgetown University, College of William and Mary, and Johns Hopkins University. She also has recurrent public speaking engagements by invitation of the World Bank, Inter American Development Bank,[49][50] Corporación Andina de Fomento,[51] OECD,[52][53] Carbon Expo, International Energy Agency, UNIDO,[54] LAC Carbon Forum[55][56] Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean,[57] AVINA Foundation,[58] [59][60] Point Carbon,[61] Environmental Finance,[62] International Emissions Trading Association [4][5], PEW Center on Global Climate Change,[63] Global Foundation for Democracy and Development,[64] etc. She has been trained and authorized by Al Gore to deliver his presentation An Inconvenient Truth.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change[edit]

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, gave the opening statement before delegates from 193 countries gathered in Cancun, Mexico on November 29, 2010 by invoking the ancient jaguar goddess Ixchel, noting that Ixchel was not only goddess of the moon, but also "the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving. May she inspire you – because today, you are gathered in Cancun to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity as your tools." She went on to say to the delegates, "Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skilful interlacing of many threads," said Figueres, who hails from Costa Rica and started her greetings in Spanish before switching to English. "I am convinced that 20 years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel."[65]

At the 2013 International Coal and Climate summit, Figueres stated the coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution by responding proactively to the current paradigm shift.[66]

She has also praised China for its attention to air pollution, They actually want to breathe air that they don’t have to look at. They’re not doing this because they want to save the planet. They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest. China is also able to implement policies because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the U.S..[67]

Figueres presented at the 2014 Climate Change Summit in New York City. She warned the businesses and politicians who attended not become complacent with the progress of the summit, that the commitments announced were still not enough to prevent global warming from rising.[68] Figueres was quoted saying “We have to get back to having a balanced world,” continuing by saying “That's where we've F'ed up."[69]


  • Vice President of the Bureau of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2008–09.[27]
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the UNEP Risoe Centre, Denmark.
  • Member of the Carbon Finance Working Group of Project Catalyst, initiated by Climateworks, a new foundation endowed by the Packard, Hewlett and McKnight Foundations, and supported by McKinsey & Co. 2008
  • Board of Directors of the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS), 2008.[70][71]
  • Energy Program Advisory Committee of Green Cross International, founded by Pres. Gorbachev, 2008[72][73]
  • Representative of Latin America and the Caribbean to the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2007.[39]
  • International Member of the Academy of Sciences, Dominican Republic. 2007.[74]
  • Board of Directors and Trustee, Winrock International, a mission-driven international NGO with a budget of $50 million and an endowment of $60 million. 2005–present. Chair of the Governance Committee and Member of the Executive Committee, 2007–present.[75]
  • Advisory Senate of the ICE Organization Limited, first credit card to neutralize carbon emissions of user’s purchases. 2007–present
  • Board of Trustees of the Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Cordillera Volcánica Central (FUNDECOR), Costa Rican organization with an endowment of $15 million and which received the 2001 King Bauldwin Award. 1999–present[76]
  • Board of Directors, International Institute for Energy Conservation, 2006–2008[77]
  • Member of the Development Dividend Task Force, International Institute of Sustainable Development, Canada. 2005–2008[78]
  • Invited member of the Clinton Global Initiative, 2005–2006[79]
  • Member of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change, led by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University. 2005–07
  • Selection panel for the Yale World Fellows Program, 2003 – 2006.
  • Hero for the Planet Award by the National Geographic Magazine and the Ford Motor Company, March 2001, in recognition of international leadership in sustainable energy.
  • Technical Advisory Board of the Prototype Carbon Fund of the World Bank, 1999–2001[80]
  • Board of Directors of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), 1999–2003[81]
  • Advisory Board of the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS), Duke University 1998–2000
  • Vice President, Foundation for Central American Management Education (INCAE), in association with Harvard University. 1998–2001


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