Christiana Figueres is executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Pere Estupinyà is a Catalan science journalist trained in the US, director of a documentary on the energy transition funded by the national Spanish TV. At the end of the film, he asks Christiana Figueres about the timing at our disposal. You can view the documentary here.

I don’t speak the language, but google translate provided the following approximation to the end of the interview:


Because you tell me what we have achieved victory without optimism. It can not. But we depend so much fossil fuels and energy demand is growing, which gives a feeling that you do not see where this change may have even in a fast enough to stop.

Christian Figueres:

Yes. The speed is what worries me. I sit here an impatience, a message that sends me my boss, that here the minutes pass. If you do not have a radical change in the next 5 years, here we will have a human suffering.

It is unacceptable and dangerously a world threat in which we will always be poverty. That is unacceptable. That is an unacceptable scenario. To think that we can continue during this century with poverty levels that we had in the past century and that could get worse in this century is unacceptable.


It’s just so unfair …

It is that there is a moral imperative.

It is a difficult issue, hard.

After that, she began to cry.

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36 responses to “Tears

  1. David B. Benson

    I see no massive movement towards lowering the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere.

  2. Google is getting better all the time but I thought I would offer my own translation of the words of Ms. Figueres:

    “Yes. The speed is what worries me. I sense here an impatience — a message that my boss, upstairs, is sending me as well — that the minutes are ticking by. If we don’t have a radical change in the next five years, we’re going to have human suffering that is unacceptable, and that dangerously threatens us with a world in which we will always have poverty. That is unacceptable. That is an unacceptable scenario. To think that we could continue during this century with the levels of poverty that we’ve had in the last century, and that it may get even worse in this century, is unacceptable.

    Certainly. It’s just that it’s so unjust …

    There is a moral imperative.

    It’s a difficult issue, hard.”

  3. I was watching this the other day, nothing new (for me) but reinforces how late we’ve left it. He’s VERY scathing of the Paris Agreement :)

    I’ll just continue loving my very low emissions lifestyle, engaging with friends and peers over why and voting for The Greens. My guess, ‘Ms Clinton’ will be elected and when she leaves in 8 years, her speech will be about how important it is to tackle climate change.

    This is bottom up, until people start living low emisisons lifestyles and normalising that behaviour, nothing will change aside from the rhetoric.

    I know it’s common practice to blame deniers for your own emissions but I blame everyone emitting more than about 3-4t per annum for this, to you folk, I say ….

    [Response: I urge you to do your duty and vote for Ms. Clinton. Imperfect though she is, Donald Trump would be a disaster of unprecedented proportions. We owe it to our fellow citizens to swallow our pride, put the common good above venting our anger or indulging our wishes, and help prevent Trump from becoming president rather than vote for a 3rd-party candidate because we didn’t get what we want.]

    • “This is bottom up, until people start living low emisisons lifestyles and normalising that behaviour, nothing will change aside from the rhetoric.”

      Choosing a spartan lifestyle is all very well and extremely gratifying if we want to feel that we’re doing more than other people. In my household, we have rooftop solar and in our previous household we had solar hot water for 20+ years. However, where we now live we have an electrified train service (being in South Australia that means that our train travel would usually be powered 30% or more by wind). There was no train to catch, electrified or otherwise, within several miles of our previous home.

      Some things we can do out of our own resources and by our individual actions. Other things, like building wind farms or electrifying train services or setting higher standards for electrical efficiency of buildings and equipment or redesigning cities and suburbs to enable more walking and cycling are, and always will be, matters for various levels of government and for industry/ commerce to undertake for the community as a whole.

    • Good one. Here’s the referenced document.

      I agree with Tamino’s comment; election of Trump moves us even further away from any non-ugly (re)solution.

    • Yeah, it’s hard to see the Paris agreement avoiding dangerous warming (if we’re not already there), even if all of the INDCs are met (which is a very big “if”). Maybe that’s at the root of Figueres’s tears; she knows that sufficient action won’t be taken sufficiently quickly. As that video linked by T-rev mentions, we’re already at 1.2C above pre-industrial, with around a further 0.5C masked by aerosols. And still there are new projects for oil, gas and coal production or discovery. Surely, if there was any chance that countries would abide by their Paris “commitments”, we wouldn’t be seeing the policies we’re seeing, with the only slight positive that I’ve seen being the Dutch vote to phase out coal within years (though it was only advisory, which probably means it won’t be done).

      I feel sorry for Americans who feel they have to vote for one of the main candidates, since there is little trust in either. At least there is a Green option but it may be the case that enough people would only vote for that option if they felt it could succeed. Well, all I can say is that it won’t succeed if people don’t vote for it.

      • Currently the USA is a two-party country. There is a long history of its resiliency. Until something big enough to break the cycle comes along, it’s not going to change.

        Voting 3rd party is tantamount to voting for Trump.

      • Aren’t we forgetting that the Paris agreement was explicitly proposed to be (and accepted as) a floor, not a ceiling, on action? That’s why there are 5 year reviews built in–their intent is to ratchet *up* standards to a more realistic level. Aren’t we forgetting that the process envisioned a 5-year period to come into force, but that it now appears that that will happen before the end of the year? Aren’t we forgetting the precedent of the bilateral US-China agreement, which denialists panned (stupidly, IMO) as an excuse for China to do nothing on emissions for 20 years–yet it now appears that China may have already reached peak emissions by the time the agreement was reached:


        Kinda significant, given that China is the world’s leading emitter, by far.

        I’m not suggesting all is well. As we all know, the existing Paris standards are not adequate, and I agree that it would be foolish to think that all nations will meet their INDCs. (Though it would also, IMO, be foolish to think that INDCs won’t also be ‘over-achieved’ by some nations.) I am suggesting that the picture is mixed, not one of unrelieved gloom. We need to work cooperatively to build and sustain political pressure for constructive action on climate. I do as much as I can, and am always trying to figure out ways to do more, or do better. But socioeconomic change, I must remind myself, is not an individual sport. There’s a reason why the one-word mantra of those experienced in ‘change-making’ is: “Organize!”

        Which gets us back to defeating Trump. He must NOT win.

      • JCH, I’m not sure how a third party vote is the same as a vote for Trump. It depends on the third party and on the voter’s choice if the third parties weren’t there. I hope third party voters aren’t vilified by others just because some favourite didn’t get in.

        Doc Snow, I’m not clear on the Paris agreement, then. Are you saying that INDCs are brought forward if the agreement comes into force early? As far as I’m aware, the only actual commitments are to meet, to review INDCs (which are not binding), every 5 years, starting in 2018 (though no changes to INDCs would be made at that meeting). What actually changes would result from an early confirmation of the agreement?

        Yes, the INDCs could be considered a baseline though considering they have been developed since 2009 (Copenhagen), the insufficient current INDCs don’t seem to be too ambitious. But we’ll see what actual actions result. Sadly, we’ll have to wait another 10 years or so to see who is meeting up to their INDCs. The way climate seems to be changing, that is an awfully long time to wait.

      • Because in this country in its current state, either a Republican or a Democrat is going to win. A 3rd-party vote is a vote for the eventual winner. The voters who voted for Nader elected W.

    • The US system is that we have legislators at the municipal, county, state house and senate, and federal house and senate… and the president. But almost all we ever hear about is the president.

      In the presidential race there’s a first round in the spring and summer where non-centrist voices can run (and, as we see with Trump, sometimes even win), then a runoff in November.

      Where there’s active listening going on is in the primaries, in the more local races (elect a green house representative!), and if you get active in a party, in party conferences (but not the coronation ceremony that the national convention is about). Between elections, you can march, you can show up at public meetings, you can write your legislator.

      Nobody listens to those who don’t vote, or who vote for minor-party candidates in the presidency.

      Parliamentary systems are different.

      • Yes. If one feels that the Green party is what one wants to support, the place to start is not with the Presidency, but with your municipal council or county board. Then the state level, then Congress. It’s very difficult for even a political elite figure to have great impact on the Presidential race; much easier to help elect a councilman who won’t pave over every tree in the county given half a chance.

  4. Too many people only get involved in the political process when there are big elections: and then they complain that they don’t like any of the candidates. If you want to have suitable candidates, you need to be preparing them years in advance of the elections.

  5. Losing ground under a Trump presidency and Supreme Court is not an option. If you are in a swing state, vote for Clinton and then engage in the fight using your collective skills, knowledge, perspective, and power

    • I will start to feel optimistic when the right-wingers start worrying about climate change. Until that time, we will likely remain in political stalemate. I encourage Clinton supporters to reach out and talk with republicans about climate change instead of bashing folks who are so intent on doing something about militarism and capitalism that they have to cast a ballot to someone who is not connected to our Red/Blue one-party system. Change will come when lots of right-wingers get worried.

  6. Perhaps a bit off topic, but here’s an interesting article on Gary Johnson’s views on climate change and what to do (or not do) about it:
    Seems that we shouldn’t do anything because the sun will eventually (billions of years) consume us.
    In the meantime …

  7. A summary of Clinton and Trump on climate change:

    If Trump gets in, it’ll set the fight to stop global warming back to 1981 (except, unfortunately, for the CO2 and temperature values we had then). Hell, even worse; Reagan may have blamed pollution on trees, but at least he liked horses and wide open spaces to ride them in.

    Please, USA, if there’s one thing you do in the next 2 months, make it voting for Clinton.

  8. It is your duty not to vote green. You must vote BAU. This is the politics of sucvessful climate change action.

  9. David B. Benson

    I am in a Clinton-for-sure state and I will hold my nose and vote for her.

  10. Third-party voters are why we had eight years of W. An idiotic war instead of eight years of action on AGW. I will damn well vilify third-party voters if by some horrible chance Trump wins. It’s quite possible that third-party voters would not be the deciding factor in that case, but it’s also quite possible that if you play Russian Roulette you will come out of it alive.

    • Hmm. Well, from my vantage point, I didn’t see 8 years of action on climate change with Obama so I’m not sure we would have seen 8 years of action without Bush. If Sanders had got the nod maybe it would be different. But I wouldn’t complain about anyone voting for Green policies.

      [Response: If Bush has lost, Al Gore would have been president — and doing something about global warming is his #1 priority. It already was; he was one of the driving forces behind the Kyoto protocal. Your statement is ludicrous.

      As for “green policies,” all the candidates were asked a bunch of questions about science-related policies and their answers were recently “graded” by Scientific American magazine. Not only did Hillary Clinton do better than any other candidate including the “Green party” candidate (Hillary got an A-), Trump got an F.

      Realism: the choice is either Clinton or Trump. The question is: which will do better dealing with climate change. The answer is obvious.]

      • I suppose you think the President can simply solve the problem with the stroke of a pen or the waving of a magic wand. Obama has consistently done whatever he realistically could do in the face of an antagonistic Congress. That is why his attorney general has spent so much time in court trying to defend his initiatives.

        Basically it comes down to how we deal with this problem IN THE REAL WORLD.

      • Indeed, that seems to be at least partly true. Perhaps the Presidential role isn’t as powerful as some think.

      • Yes, I understand the consequences of Bush not winning and I’m utterly dismayed that Gore got more votes than Bush but still didn’t win. Some democracy, huh? However, I’ve grown tired of “leaders” who say they want to do something about CC but then do, effectively, nothing (Gore never got to be a leader but I’d hate to have his footprint). Global emissions have continued to rise without economic slowdowns/stagnation. Even the US’s reductions only kicked in after the GFC (and are not consumption based – with consumption based, they have been rising). Yet we understand that leaders of the US, China and Europe are well aware of what needs to be done. So I don’t think my statement is ludicrous. Let’s see what happens when Hilary gets in (I still think she’ll get in). If nothing really changes, relative to the economy, then how will you view the next candidate who promises action?

        I can’t vote in your election but, personally, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Clinton (and definitely not Trump). I’m disappointed that I’ve been lambasted here for suggesting that people vote for the candidate who best matches their principles.

        [Response: That’s not why you were lambasted. There are two reasons: first, for the ridiculous statement about Gore (and the snide remark about his “footprint” is just as bad), and second for your comment that you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for Clinton.

        Hitler is running for president, but you wouldn’t vote for the one person who can stop him — if she doesn’t best match *your* principles, the rest of us be damned. It’s all about you.]

      • “…I’ve grown tired of “leaders” who say they want to do something about CC but then do, effectively, nothing…”

        It could be worse. You could live in Canada, where, sadly, this perfectly describes everything up to the election of Justin Trudeau. (The jury is still out on him, but the recent approval of a large gas pipeline isn’t a terribly encouraging sign.)

      • Aww, Mikey, you poor, little precious snowflake. No doubt, you’ll make yourself feel better by driving a hybrid car or bicycling to and from work or by not flying or by going all Unabomber and writing a manifesto. And meanwhile, CO2 will continue to increase, and temperatures will continue to climb and the environment will continue to degrade. How sympathetic do you think your grandchildren will be when you say, “It wasn’t my fault. To do more, I would have had to get my hands dirty by voting for the lesser of two evils?”

      • snarkrates, you couldn’t be more wrong about me.

        Tamino, thanks for explaining but it still makes no sense. The remark about Hitler puts you in the same boat you put me in. I don’t think Gore’s footprint is insignificant and I recently watched a TED talk of his where he says the battle against CC is already won. He seems sadly deluded.

    • Yes. I don’t get it. Voting third party just means throwing your vote away.

  11. When the issue is framed in most minds as “green” it is framed as fringe – at best perhaps well meaning but a bit irrational and at worst seen the way Donald Trump does. Whilst many political environmentalists welcomed that framing it was the failure of mainstream politics to face it head on with eyes open – and deliberate efforts by others to taint the issue by associating it with an “irrational” fringe – that made it “green” and not mainstream.

    The issue needs to be mainstream and seen as central to future economic prosperity and international security but even the leading mainstream politicians and persons of influence that appear to support it are, as often as not, reluctant to commit to strong climate policies. Some may sincerely regret that they are so constrained but too many are subject to the economic alarmist fear that is the foudation of mainstream reluctance and resistance. And some simply find it expedient to claim to accept the science in order to obstruct and oppose more effectively – advocating for the interests they see as most important – within the mire of conflicted politics.

    I am beginning to think that perhaps most significant contribution renewable energy will make in the near term isn’t in directly reducing emissions, but in undermining that economic alarmist fear of accepting climate responsibility that the mainstream reluctance and resistance is founded upon. As long as the issue is mired in political conflict the policies we need will always be compromised, full of loopholes and “essential” exceptions and less effective than we need them to be.

    • Yes, good comment, Ken Fabian. While people who are financially well-off will be more buffered from AGW’s impacts than poorer people, everyone will take some kind of hit. Yet as early as the Frank Luntz memo to the GW Bush administration (credit to Shub Niggurath for making the full memo available), AGW was being redefined from a looming economic disaster that would affect everyone regardless of political preference, to a liberal, environmentalist special-interest issue. Even the New York Times has made that association in some of the AGW-related articles I’ve seen recently.

      Republican figures who acknowledge that the costs of AGW to the American economy far outweigh the costs of mitigation, and who support government intervention like a carbon tax, are valuable allies and should be encouraged to the fullest extent possible.

  12. Stephen Spencer

    I am a (lurker) fan of this site, and an Australian. Given that the US Presidency is so important to the whole world, not just the US, I hope a view from the outside will be useful.
    I am a left progressive who votes Green in Australia, but because we have a preferential voting system, my vote will transfer to the Labor Party (ALP) if the Green candidate does not succeed. The ALP is, sort of, our equivalent to your Democrats. The Australian voting system makes it easier for parties like the Greens to flourish, than does the US one. Americans who want to build more progressive options than the Democrats, will have to argue for another voting system, which I don’t expect to occur any time soon, or use a bottom up process as described by Doc Snow.
    It goes without saying that a Trump Presidency would be a disaster for the world – I have lots of Conservative friends who feel the same way about theDonald.
    If I were a US citizen I would have supported Bernie and was disappointed that he failed to win the primary.
    After Monday’s debate, I feel there are positive reasons to support Clinton, rather than just the negative one that she is not Trump.
    On Climate, IMHO, ratification of the Paris agreement and then hard work to ramp up the efforts to reduce emissions is the best hope to leave a decent world for my descendants. Any Republican President would severely damage this process.
    For the sake of my kids, grand kids and (yet to be born great-grand kids) please VOTE CLINTON.