Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa of UNFCCC calls upon designers to be bold and act on climate change

‘Recognize the power of design to raise ambition everywhere’


Published in Climate Action & WDCD by

In her address to WDCD Live São Paulo Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) heralded the potential of design to help tackle climate change. ‘Your ideas, your energy and enthusiasm are needed now more than ever.’

Let me first thank What Design Can Do for inviting me to this conference – and for the invitation to preside over the jury for the Climate Action Challenge. All of the projects the jury reviewed were creative, innovative and interesting. It was not easy to determine the winners from so many great submissions. I have to recognize the amazing work by all 35 finalists and everyone who entered. Based on what I have seen, I truly believe that design can change the world.

We meet today in a moment of great urgency. This year, we have seen severe storms severely damage Caribbean islands and the coast of North America, extreme monsoon flooding across Asia, and floods in Africa and Europe. People are suffering. Lives and livelihoods are lost.

We must change the world

The message is clear. We no longer have the luxury of time. We must act on climate change now. Recent extreme weather underscores the urgent need to reduce the emissions that drive climate impacts and build more resilient communities and societies.

To accomplish this, we must change the world. We have to transform how we live, how we get around, how we produce the food, water and energy. We need to survive and thrive. We have to transform our economy, our relationships with each other and with the way we manage and cherish our home, our planet.

Governments took a crucial step towards this transformation last week at our latest UN Climate Change conference – COP 23 – in Bonn, Germany. It looks like next year we will also get a first look at progress towards our globally agreed goals with a view to ramping them up. So, in that sense, we had a very positive conference. Indeed, I am sure Bonn in 2017 will be looked back on as the launch pad to the next level of ambition to get us truly on track to meet the aims of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Bold announcements

But the political outcome is not the only inspiring outcome from COP 23. We had thousands of people taking to the streets in support of a more climate-secure and sustainable world – and millions more following along online. We had bold announcements of climate action by hundreds of cities and regions and by businesses and investors – large and small – from around the world.

All these leaders, companies and individuals are looking for solutions to the global climate challenge. Their passion and ingenuity is truly inspiring.

Yet, even with all the momentum from the climate conference; even with ratification of the Paris Agreement by now 170 nations; even with unprecedented alignment by those driving the real economy and so much support, we must do more. Everyone must be part of the solution.

Redesigning development

In this moment, we must redesign growth and development to enable everyone to get on board. Redesigning development can put us on course to achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, the Agenda for Sustainable Development and many more agreements. But perhaps more importantly, it puts us on course to protect people and the planet that sustains us. To make the day-to-day lives of every person better – and hand over a better world to the next generations.

That lies at the very heart of the effort to tackle climate change – to improve the wellbeing of people. To help healthy communities thrive on a healthy planet. After seeing the Climate Action Challenge entries, I am convinced that is also at the heart of design.

Designers are ingenious innovators. You are creative and you have great ideas. Your work holds the potential to help people live cleaner, greener more climate-smart lives. You can also make this transformation cool, fun and fashionable – so that many more people want to be engaged.

We have to work together

Ladies and gentlemen, here, at the What Can Design Do conference, I encourage each and every one of you to truly embrace the idea that design can change the world. Whether it’s designing more efficient homes or a better water bottle – a website that enables action or a communication campaign that raises awareness.

You make it easier for all people to help meet the climate change challenge. This is true to the spirit of the Paris Agreement. We have to work together – with creativity and dedication – to deliver a better world to every person today and the generations to come.

We cannot leave any one country or company or community behind. Everyone can contribute to the Paris Agreement and to a better world. You make this easier. So today, I encourage you to be bold. Be creative. Think outside the box. Raise your own ambition to act on climate change.

Recognize the power of design

Above all else, recognize the power of design to raise ambition everywhere. To indeed change the world. Your ideas, your energy and enthusiasm are needed now more than ever. We can and must design a more stable, secure and sustainable world, a world where peace and prosperity flourish.

Let’s do it now – and let’s do it together.

Top image: at the jury table, from left to right, Dagan Cohen (challenge leader), Richard van der Laken (creative director WDCD), Patricia Espinosa (UNFCCC) and Alexandre Gellert Paris (UNFCCC)

Sign up for our newsletter