Getting to Know B Team Leader Christiana Figueres

07/17/2017
Christiana Podium

What inspires you?

I have always been inspired by human determination to do the right thing. Most recently I have been bowled over by the verve of civil society, business, investor, sub-national and national governments’ collective responses to the US administration’s backsliding on climate action. Their collaborative efforts and their public determination to stick with Paris no matter what has been one of the most inspiring moments in my career so far.

Which B Team challenge or initiative are you motivated by most, and how is your organization helping to lead on the issue?

Implementing measures to address climate change not only addresses that tragedy of the commons, it also remedies the global commons. This is most directly true in the restoration of degraded lands. If you look at global maps of poverty and conflict and lay them on top of maps of degraded land, you can see a very close correlation, which puts restoring nature very dear to my heart. Restoring nature – and land – brings prosperity to communities, it improves their health, delivers more security, and it plays a critical role in reducing GHG emissions. Land use changes comprise somewhere between 25 – 35 percent of the solution to climate change. Importantly nature also brings people joy, which degraded land can rarely do.

We are working with groups like Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and many others on a mission to ensure that large scale deforestation is replaced with large-scale land restoration and that agriculture shifts to earth friendly practices – by 2020. This includes encouraging the world’s nations, civil society institutions, and corporations to act to end net deforestation by the 2020s, putting us on a path to reducing emissions from forestry and other land use 95 percent below 2010 levels by 2030. It involves working to ensure at least 150 million hectares of degraded land is restored, enhancing biodiversity and building ecosystem resilience as well as ramping up the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices that reduce CO2 emissions, increase CO2 removals and halt the growth of non-CO2 emissions.

What convinced you to take on this challenge? Why do you believe that it cannot be achieved without business engagement and leadership?

I was convinced to take up this challenge a long time ago, when I realized that the world I was leaving my children was a depleted version of the one I had inherited as a child. I wanted to reverse that.  

To achieve something as monumental as prising GHG emissions and global growth apart, when they have been joined at the hip for so long, and sending them in completely opposite directions (growth up – emissions down) by 2020 can only be achieved with intentionality, ingenuity and radical collaboration. We need leaders to set out the challenges and bring people on board to deliver and believe in the solutions. And of course we need business engagement, because business is connected to, and is influential in, every segment of society.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on this journey?

Without optimism, it is almost impossible to tackle any large challenge: attitude really matters. And without collaboration across unusual sectors, getting things done takes way too long and is nowhere near as fun.

What is the first thing you read every morning?

Sadly first my urgent emails. After my morning PG Tips tea I read from the many inspiring writings primarily in the Buddhist wisdom tradition.  

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur seeking to start a new company today?

Do it with integrity. Give it a big injection of collective consciousness. Do not make profit your only concern – if your company can improve the world for everyone, with close to zero impact on nature, it will win. The bottom line is not just profit  – it’s people and planet too.

If there is one big change you could make in the world today, what would it be?


All the world’s girls would be in school, no matter where they live.

If you were given an extra day next week, how would you spend it?

Walking on the beach in my homeland in Costa Rica.  

What one thing would you change to help more companies go further, faster, towards sustainable business?

Double or triple the number of women in management positions and on boards.

This interview is part of a new series to help you get to know the B Team leaders, what they are working on and what they are passionate about. You can read Richard Branson’s interview here, Yolanda Kakabadse’s interview here, Sharan Burrow’s interview here, Bob Collymore’s interview here, David Crane’s here and expect a new one each month.

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