The former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres is to receive the Gold Medal for Human Rights, awarded by the Sydney Peace Foundation.
The citation for the human rights award said Figueres was being recognised “For extraordinary leadership to address the climate crisis and reminding us that outrage and optimism are equally important to change the world.”
Figures, who is from Costa Rica, served as the head of the UN body responsible for climate change between 2010 and 2016, and her term culminated in the successful negotiation of the Paris Agreement.
Since finishing her term with the UNFCCC, Figueres as served as the convenor of Mission 2020, a global initiative that seeks to accelerate action on climate change, and serves as vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.
The Sydney Peace Foundation said that it had decided to recognise Figueres for her efforts as a climate change diplomat, recognising both the success of facilitating a new global agreement, as well as the pressing international issue of climate change and its relevance to global human rights.
“The Sydney Peace Foundation has chosen to honour the leadership of Christiana Figueres with the presentation of the 2020 Gold Medal for Human Rights because of her collaboration and influencing skills, her persistence in ensuring a global agreement on limiting climate warming (the Paris Agreement), her relentless drive to ensure we don’t sleepwalk into an environmental nightmare by keeping our outrage alive, and importantly for the reminder that we must be optimistic and hopeful about the possibility of a much better world,” the foundation said in a statement.
Earlier in the month, the Sydney Peace Foundation said that it would increase the focus of its work on the challenge of climate change, saying that the worsening impacts caused by global warming would put global institutions under stress and would work to exacerbate global conflicts.
“Figueres is one of the world’s top negotiators having done what many said was impossible, she brought the world to the table to sign the Paris Agreement. She is now challenging governments, business and civil society to work together to stop the climate from rising to catastrophic levels,” Sydney Peace Foundation director Susan Biggs said.
“Figueres’ powerful leadership reminds us to balance outrage and optimism because we must maintain the anger so we act quickly, and also the hope that change is possible. She points out that we need to reach the global climate turning point by 2020 to begin the descent towards net zero emissions in the second half of the century.”
“In her words, ‘We’re holding the pen of history in our hands, it’s up to us to write what the history of humanity and of this planet will be.'”
The Gold Medal for Human Rights had previously been awarded to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel, former South African president Nelson Mandela and Japanese peace activist Daisaku Ikeda.
The Gold Medal for Human Rights is awarded by the Sydney Peace Foundation on an irregular basis, to recognise particular contributions to the improvements to human rights, and supplements the annual award of the Sydney Peace Prize awarded by the same foundation.
Figueres recently criticised the Australian government’s response to climate change, saying that Australia had to demonstrate leadership in reducing emissions if it expected other countries to act on climate change.
“Australia needs all other countries to help in solving what is a global problem, not a national problem. If Australia doesn’t put a firm foot forward, it stands in no position to actually ask all other countries to also put their best foot forward,” Figueres said in an interview with Triple J Hack.
“Australia depends on the best efforts being put forward by all countries, but for that, Australia has to do the same.”
Figueres is expected to accept the award at an event in Sydney on 12 March.