Christiana Figueres last night received the prestigious Edinburgh Medal at the Signet Library in Edinburgh with a rousing speech that urged “stubborn optimism” in the face of human-made global warming.
On the eve of the start of the Edinburgh Science Festival, Figueres praised Scots for being “not dour, but do-ers” and encouraged a rapid transition by people and the economy off fossil fuels.
The former Executive Secretary UN Convention on Climate Change (2010-2016), and Founding Partner at Global Optimism, Christiana Figueres joins a long line of Edinburgh Medal winners judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.
Previous recipients include Prof Jane Goodall (1991) and Sir David Attenborough (1998) as well as climate change scientists Dr James Hansen (2012) and Prof Chris Rapley (2008).
Figueres was recognised for her achievement in helping to broker the Paris Agreement among countries of the world in December 2015.
The global climate agreement saw nations commit to limit global warming to below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational goal of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees centigrade.
Accepting the award, Figueres said: “It is a true honour to join a long list of illustrious recipients of the Edinburgh Medal, in our collective quest to advance science as the basis of policy and innovation.”
She urged people not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge that the transition entails.
"No challenge has ever been won with pessimism. So that is why I bring a tsunami of optimism to this whole darn thing and I invite you all to be stubborn optimists," she said in a tweet, thanking the Science Festival for the award.
Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who gave the Oration, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Only through truly global efforts will we be successful in averting what could be disastrous consequences for communities across the world, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
She added: “Christiana Figueres played a defining role in the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement, with her passion, drive and persuasiveness being fundamental to that historic commitment being taken by more than 190 nations. It is extremely fitting that Ms Figueres has been awarded the prestigious Edinburgh Medal, and I was honoured to have the opportunity to provide the oration at her award ceremony.”
Frank Ross, Lord Lieutenant and Lord Provost of Edinburgh, said: “Christiana Figueres played a pivotal role in the successful conclusion of the Paris talks and remains an influential global ambassador for the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. Her tireless dedication to the cause of engaging world leaders with climate change is truly inspirational”.
Amanda Tyndall, Creative and Festival Director at Edinburgh Science Festival, said:
“In this time of global upheaval and uncertainty there is, more than ever before, a need for nations to work together to combat the threat that climate change poses to our futures.”
Earlier this week, Tyndall spoke to EdinburghGuide.com about why the festival decided to no longer accept funding from fossil fuel extraction companies and how the Edinburgh Science Festival tackles the subject of climate change.
The Science Festival opened today (Saturday, 6 April) and runs until Easter Sunday, 21 April.