Meet Sustainable Hero and ECF CEO Laurence Tubiana

Laurence Tubiana


Sustainable Heroes IV

Sustainable Europe

Laurence Tubiana is the CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the Chair of the Board of Governors at the French Development Agency (AFD) and France’s former Climate Change Ambassador and Special Representative for COP21. Laurence was one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement, and she now uses policy as a tool to shape the sustainable future of Europe. In 2018, President Macron appointed her to France’s High Council for Climate Action.

We are impressed by your leadership strategy at the ECF, and greatly admired your work in connection with the 2015 COP21 Climate Change Conference as well as theInstitute of Sustainable Development and International Relations. Please tell us about your background – where does your passion for sustainability stem from?What initiatives are you currently working on that excite you?
The long-term temperature goal included in the [Paris] Agreement – which was for a longtime considered unrealistic – has now become the main frame of reference. We are now also talking of carbon neutrality as early as 2050 for many countries, with others to follow shortly after.

My commitment to sustainability began over thirty years ago, when I was working on international development issues. The sustainable development approach then recognized that environmental degradation and climate change strongly compromise any hope of long-term development and exacerbate inequalities. It offered a new paradigm: highlighting the limits of the dominant economic system and offering a new basis for a more collaborative and just international regime, working within planetary boundaries. I have since fought for the climate in my successive roles as an economist, political advisor, diplomat, leader of a think tank, and today as CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

Today, I am convinced that we can achieve an ecological transition that is fair and inclusive if we work together, gaining the support of the public. To help make this transition a reality, we need to show that alternatives and concrete solutions exist. Foundations like ECF have an important role to play to support those advocating for sustainable development and calling for bold action on climate.

You were a key architect of the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015 through your role for COP21. In your view, what’s the importance of this Agreement? What success has the Agreement seen to date?

The Paris Agreement is a historical achievement in the way that it has brought all countries into a joint effort to reduce emissions. Its biggest success remains the way in which it has changed the conversation on climate change. Acknowledging that incremental steps would not be sufficient, companies, investors and governments came together in Paris to adopt a new transformational vision, which has continued to develop ever since.

The long-term temperature goal included in the Agreement – which was for a long time considered unrealistic – has now become the main frame of reference. We are now also talking of carbon neutrality as early as 2050 for many countries, with others to follow shortly after. Conversations are taking place about what this means in practice: such as the need to move away from fossil fuels by 2050 and the need to shift industrial production as a whole (e.g. in the automotive industry).

Last year, President Macron appointed you to France’s High Council on Climate Change. What does this role entail?

The High Council is an independent body, inspired by the Committee on Climate Change in the U.K. It is both a watchdog and an advisor: describing what it means for France to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and guaranteeing that France respects this trajectory.

As such, the High Council will also provide certainty and clarity for the private sector and other actors as they plan for their involvement in the delivery of a French transition.

The European Climate Foundation advocates for a Carbon Neutral European Union by 2050. What do you see as the biggest challenges to achieving this goal?

We know that reaching net-zero CO2 emissions in Europe by 2050 is feasible; however, the main challenge remains to convince those EU countries that remain reluctant to adopting this objective – especially countries with a high dependency on coal.

What we need to do now is to develop joint infrastructure projects, notably for the electrification of our transportation and integration of our energy systems.

In the face of urgency, it is essential to work across different constituencies to develop inclusive and efficient approaches that mobilize everyone.

You have been involved in the fight against climate change from a range of different angles – government, think tanks, NGOs, academia. What insights have you gained from these various perspectives?

Nobody can win this fight alone. Governments need pressure from the outside. They need ideas and models to put political rhetoric into action. In the face of urgency, it is essential to work across different constituencies to develop inclusive and efficient approaches that mobilize everyone.

In a recent op-ed of yours, you ask “In a world ravaged by hurricanes, wildfires, heatwaves, and droughts, why has it been so hard to garner broad public support for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?” You believe that “the answer is all in the messaging”. Can you elaborate on this? How can we change this to gain the support we need?

We have to strike a balance between communicating the reality of the dangers of climate change and avoiding creating a reaction of despair and paralysis. We need governments to act like this is a crisis, but we also need to find a way out. We need to plan for the future we want and start making choices accordingly.

Storytelling and showcasing will play an important role in highlighting our collective capacity to find solutions and innovate.

Can we solve the world’s climate crisis? 10 years from now, what will we look back on and be surprised by?

I think that when we look back in 10 years, we will see these years as a turning point in public awareness about the climate crisis and for different constituencies to understand the need to act and the benefits of acting.

What innovation and sustainable technologies do you find the most interesting and groundbreaking?

The way that agricultural production is being reframed, putting forward the idea that a more ecological approach to production can be a solution for feeding people is, to me, groundbreaking. It highlights that a lot of the knowledge and solutions already exist and can be used to change our current models now.

In the transport sector, many interesting technologies are also being developed as solutions for zero carbon transport.

Who is your sustainable hero and why?

The people in the environmental movement who began this fight in the 1970s, and without whom we would not have come so far today…and the young climate strikers who stress better than anyone the urgency of taking bold climate action now.

Laurence Tubiana

About Sustainable Heroes

Join us on a journey into the hearts and minds of some of today’s greatest heroes, who have dedicated themselves to positively impact tomorrow’s world. We invite you to explore with us what makes these heroes tick, what drives them to overcome arduous trials and immense challenges, known and unknown.

In this issue, we pay homage to global leaders accelerating the sustainable transformation – all of whom share the goal of fighting climate change and creating a sustainable world that is more resilient and lower carbon intensive.

We encourage you on your own quest for ways to innovate, embrace sustainability and do the right thing. Become a heroine or hero to others and help us together solve the problems threatening our very survival. To each of you heroes and heroines, there is a brighter, more sustainable future that we can build together for future generations.

We welcome nominations for people you’d like to see featured in future editions. Please send your nominations and other comments to anikolausson@ greentechcapital.com. 

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