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Who is Christiana Figueres?

Who is Christiana Figueres, how has she gained media attention for she advocated for the environment, and why is her work important in the fight against climate change?
Green News
2023-08-24T00:00:00.000Z
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The global fight against climate change hasn’t been a free-for-all, but leaders with strong beliefs in how climate change should be managed have helped to influence the way many environmental policies and governments function moving forward – such as by the work of well-known diplomat and environmentalist Christiana Figueres.

Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican diplomat and environmentalist who served on the board for the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( or the UNFCCC) between 2010 and 2016 – which remains as her most notable work to date. 

Who is Christiana Figueres, how has she gained media attention for how she has advocated for the environment, and why is her work important in the fight against climate change?

How did Christiana Figueres get started?

Early Life & Studies

Christiana Figueres was born in San Jose, Costa Rica on August 7th, 1956 to José Figueres Ferrer and Karen Olsen Beck – who served as the president of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel respectively. 

👉 Christiana Figueres was so inspired by her parent’s commitment to public service, she decided to pursue a career in diplomacy herself – specifically for the environment.

"From my father, I learned stubborn optimism – the mindset that is necessary to transform the reality we’re given into the reality we want." – Christiana Figueres

Christiana Figueres grew up in Lu Lucha in Costa Rica until she began traveling in her early adulthood. She went to England for one year before attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania to study anthropology – or the study of human society, culture, and development. In order to further her studies, she traveled to places in her home country of Costa Rica like Bribri, the Talamanca mountains, and other indigenous villages. Following her studies at Swarthmore, she returned to the U.K. to attend the London School of Economics to pursue a Master’s Degree in social anthropology.

costa rica

First Roles

Christiana Figueres took on her first role in public service as a Minister Counselor at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Germany between 1982 and 1985 before returning to Costa Rica in 1987 to become the Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Planning.

Following her return to Costa Rica, Christiana Figueres then started her career in environmental policy when she was recruited to be a member for Costa Rica’s team to negotiate climate change. During this time, Christiana Figueres developed her career in environmentalism further by holding various positions that worked towards greater sustainable development in both Costa Rica and abroad. 

👉 Did you know that Christina Figueres has two daughters? Niamia, who was born in March 1988  in Guatemala, and Yihana was born in December 1989 in Washington, D.C. in the United States.

Daughters & Director Roles

Following the birth of her two daughters, Christiana Figueres and her husband (Konrad von Ritter from Germany) moved to Washington D.C. – where she took a short hiatus from her career to raise her daughters. 

Returning to her career in 1994, Christiana Figueres took on the role of the Director of the Renewable Energy in the Americas (or the REIA) initiative. In 1995, she moved to work for a non-profit organization when she took on the role of becoming the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas – where she worked for eight years.

Through her work into the 2000s, Christiana Figueres became known for her successful work and indispensable value to both governments and private companies – specifically for her help in designing new climate change programs on a national level.

washington d.c. captial buidling

How did Christiana Figueres get into politics and advocate against climate change?

Originally, Christiana Figueres got into politics after having been inspired by much of her family. Her father served as the president of Costa Rica three times, while her mother had also worked as an ambassador before. 

In addition to this, her grandfather served as a great support system – who was always there despite the political craze that Christiana Figueres’s parents faced having been in the public eye for the majority of their lives. She cites his support and love for giving her the stability and confidence to pursue her own career in environmentalism and diplomacy.

“My grandfather was completely dependable. More than anything, he gave me love.” – Christiana Figueres

There were several roles that helped bring Christiana Figueres into prominence, but her most notable role is her work with the UNFCCC, where she was key to handling international negotiations that eventually resulted in the Paris Agreement in 2015 – one of the first collective, global efforts to fight against climate change.

Throughout the time leading up to the development of the Paris Climate Agreement, Christiana Figueres worked tirelessly to bring governments, businesses, organizations, and stakeholders together to reach an agreement on how to take collective action against climate change.

👉 In short, much of the success of the UNFCCC was on behalf of Christiana Figueres during this time period – which brought her widespread attention to her work and exceptional efforts to support the environment. This role with the UNFCCC served as her stepping stone to greater environmentalist endeavors. 

It isn’t just her parents’ dedication to public service that moved her, but her passion for protecting the environment came from her home country of Costa Rica, too – a beautiful Central American country which is lush, green, and booming with biodiversity that Christiana Figueres is passionate about protecting.

mountain view in Costa Rica

How did Christiana Figueres gain global attention?

Chrisitina Figueres’s success didn’t stop following her work with the UNFCCC – but it merely seemed to have began after she helped to facilitate the creation of the groundbreaking Paris Agreement in 2015.

Following her work with the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres pursued other roles that helped to further demonstrate her commitment to sustainable development and fighting against climate change. For instance, she co-founded Global Optimism – which is an organization committed to curating a positive outlook for the future despite how grim it currently looks.

In the midst of her work in climate change advocacy, Christiana Figueres also established herself as a role-model for gender equality – advocating for women’s empowerment and encouraging them to aid in the fight against climate change and overall sustainable development.

Since her role with the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres has pursued many of her own individual projects that have helped her to receive new awards for her contribution to climate change advocacy. 

For instance, she has engaged in numerous TED Talks since 2016 – a popular platform to encourage colloquial people to learn about topics, such as climate change, that they otherwise wouldn’t.

In addition to her public speaking endeavors to advocate the importance of climate change, Christina Figueres also released her own book called The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisiswhich delineates the future of humanity if climate change isn’t taken more seriously.

As a result of all of her work, Christiana Figueres has received several awards:

  • Hero for the Planet Award from National Geographic
  • Two Doctor of Science degrees
  • Alumni Award from Duke University
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun
  • Champions of the Earth
  • Friendship Award from China
  • Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum
  • Sophie Prize 
  • Environmental Achievement Award

👉 Many of the awards received by Christiana Figueres were due to her global cooperation skills and passionate efforts to work in finding solutions to fight climate change.

What are some of Christiana Figueres’s core beliefs and main goals?

Christiana Figueres operates on a very future-focused mindset, and on the belief that we are capable of creating the change we want to see – calling upon many buddhist approaches.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
picture of gandhi

Christiana Figueres herself has credited many Buddhist beliefs for getting her through difficult times, such as when she was working towards the Paris Agreement.

“Finding strength in our pain at the individual level is what we need to do at the global level.” – Christiana Figueres

Most notably, Christiana Figueres is a firm believer in what she calls, “stubborn optimism” – which is not blind faith in believing something will be okay, but taking diligent action when knowing what changes are necessary to elicit a better outcome.

Figueres is passionate about enlightening children and young adults in today’s society from capitulating to the current circumstances of global warming. She does this by explaining how our mindset towards tackling climate change is imperative. It isn’t feasible to sit and hope the problem goes away or to drown in eco-anxiety – but it is effective when you push forward and work through the obstacles in your way to achieve your goal.

👉 Christiana Figueres also believes that seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning towards a clean energy economy can help to create jobs for future generations – and has pontificated many times that what we do to reduce those greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years will pave the way for the future.

“Decarbonising the stagnant global economy is the opportunity of the century to jumpstart growth. If we invest seriously in new technology, infrastructure and transport that are climate-resilient, the economy will thrive and create millions of jobs.” – Christiana Figueres

How does Christiana Figueres promote the importance of climate change today?

Even after living a full and successful life, Christiana Figueres is still active in her environmentalism and is known to be one of the most influential and internationally recognised people in climate activism today.

After several decades of living and working abroad, Christiana Figueres returned back to her home country of Costa Rica – continuing to value her father’s life as he grew cabuya, a plant that produces fiber. She continues to fight for future farmer-philosophers to be able to plant and grow crops to their heart’s content, like her father, in the future.

costa rica in sunset

Christiana Figueres still keeps busy: she often travels to new places to give inspiring speeches, similar to TED talks, and also to share the story of her career, the struggles she faced to achieve her goals, and how it is possible to overcome obstacles and pave the way for a brighter future.

However, perhaps Christiana Figueres will have a legacy many will appreciate for generations to come – her wise words immortalised on the internet forever, hopefully inspiring future generations when climate change becomes even more dire than it already is now.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about Christiana Figueres, her life, her success, and her main goals to fight against climate change has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Taking all the advice and insight from climate figures like Christiana Figueres can be overwhelming, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you find ways to improve energy efficiency and decrease the dependency on fossil fuels in your own company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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