U.N. Climate Chief Says Other Countries Not Swayed by U.S. Pullback

Patricia Espinosa, U.N. climate chief, panel

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa (second from left) participates in a panel discussion moderated by Vicki Arroyo (far left), executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, SFS professor Joanna Lewis (third from left) and Lorena Aguilar, global senior advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations’ climate chief, fielded questions at Georgetown about the United States’ pullback from its positions on climate change.

“One of the reasons I am today here in Washington is to show how much we value the United States as an important partner,” said Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in her first speech in the nation’s capital since assuming her position this past May.

She said the evolving U.S. approach to climate change “has not provoked a reaction by other countries to push back from their commitments” to combatting climate change.

“On the contrary – it has been very clear how much countries are willing and want to reaffirm their commitments.”


The former Mexican diplomat pointed to the unusually fast ratification of the Paris Agreement last year as a sign that there is strong political will for addressing climate change around the world.

In light of the new U.S. administration, countries such as China and India are beginning to assume strong leadership roles, said Espinosa, who ran the U.N. climate summit in Cancun in 2010.

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the Georgetown Environment Initiative and the School of Foreign Service sponsored the event, which included a panel discussion moderated by Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.

“We used to think about the developing world as recipients of technical assistance,” said panelist Joanna Lewis, associate professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

But now, Lewis says, countries such as China are “demonstrating clean energy technologies at a scale that nobody else in the world has done before.”


Espinosa also framed climate change as a security issue that particularly affects women. “We must keep in mind the women in the Sahel and in other vulnerable places,” said Espinosa.

Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, which organized the event, said Espinosa “understands the important role that women can and must play in addressing climate change, both in adaptation and mitigation.”

“These women are crucial to overcome the challenge of our changing environment reality and they should do more with more resources, truly becoming agents of transformational change,” Espinosa said.

A third panelist, Lorena Aguilar, global senior gender advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, noted that women are “3.5 billion solutions to climate change.”


The U.N. climate chief also said that current momentum is not sufficient to successfully implement the landmark Paris agreement and combat climate change as a global community.

She called on nations to internalize their national commitments and gave audience members a directive, too.

“As individuals we really have many ways in which we can make a difference,” said Espinosa. “We [make] decisions that have an impact on our environment – what we eat, what we buy, how we get ourselves to go from one place to the other.”

“You all have a role to play,” she told the audience.

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