Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is the person who managed the unthinkable: she dragged together world leaders from 195 nations — including major polluters the US, China and Russia — and made them commit to lowering carbon emissions.
Figueres coordinated the Paris Agreement, a 2015 document in which the world promises to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius. Although cracks are showing in the global consensus — with the US straining to leave the agreement, and criticism about the lack of a binding enforcement mechanism — many countries have fundamentally changed operations to fit the stated goals. France has pledged to ditch the use of coal to produce electricity after 2022, and Norway will ban the sale of cars powered by petrol and diesel by 2025.
This feat is all the more impressive given the failure of similar aims at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, just 6 months before Figueres took up her UN role.
Figueres left the position with the UNFCCC in 2016 and set up a new initiative, Mission 2020, which aims to bend the curve for global Green House Gas emissions by 2020.
Her background has been in climate change negotiations since 1995, when she also founded the Centre for Sustainable Development of the Americas (CSDA), a think-tank for climate change policy and capacity-building. She is a published author on climate solutions, a well-regarded lecturer, and has been an adviser to the private sector.