Changemakers for the future

Yamide Dagnet, World Resources Institute

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combatting climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Yamide Dagnet, Director of Climate Negotiations at the World Resources Institute.    

‘Enough blah, blah, blah.’

I come from Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory. Being from a vulnerable island in an EU state has driven my call for bridging between vulnerable countries and more developed countries and finding the just landing zones and compromise to move ahead. I have a chemical engineering degree, and as an engineer, I’ve aspired to find solutions to make the world better.

The first such opportunity I had was when I interned as a safety engineer at BASF, one of Brazil’s biggest chemical companies. I was working for the chemical manufacturing sector, more precisely, its coating factory; one of the industry’s most polluting. My role at BASF was to find ways to improve the coating productions line to reduce risk and impact on the environment.

With the company, I started a project to restore unused land together with the local community. It showed me how important the will of non-state actors and the private sector is. I was shocked to see how this company, like many in that industrial zone, had a network of 30 to 50 buses to bring staff to work from various parts of São Paolo. Even directors were taking the bus. It was for three reasons: productivity, social equity and carbon footprint reduction. This was about 20 years ago! Everybody would arrive on time despite the traffic and get a free breakfast. I never saw this in Europe. It really made me think about different models and win-win solutions to fight climate change that also ensure productivity, profit, innovation and impact.

A disappearing island

Another defining moment was in my home country. Guadeloupe is an archipelago, and one of its very small islands is a UNESCO biosphere reserve known for marine species that reproduce there, not far from a coral reef. Like many Guadeloupians, I used to go there for a picnic after a beautiful boat ride from the mainland. Now, if you go there, there’s barely space to picnic. You can barely see the roof of the picnic shelters since the water has risen so high.

Five years ago, I was told that in about 10 years the island will disappear. This means there are five years left before that biosphere reserve is gone. I really need to bring my son there because it may be the last time he sees the heritage we were given and that we are losing. This realisation gave another dimension to my job. Five years ago I was already working for the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. I was already passionate. I had already served as a negotiator for the UK and the EU, but this made climate change very personal.

From the Paris Agreement to COP 2025

To make an impact you need to remain a stubborn optimist, as Christiana Figueres, former chief of the UNFCCC secretariat, said. Patience and perseverance are absolutely critical. I realised this when I collaborated with parties from around the world to define what the Paris Agreement could look like. After three years of work, we came up with a proposal six months ahead of Paris. It was fantastic to see that 75 to 80% of what we recommended made it to the agreement.

Now we are using that same spirit for an initiative called ACT2025, short for Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025. It’s with six other think tanks from vulnerable countries that aim to shape future UN Climate Change Conferences, from COP26 to the COP in 2025, to make sure the signals they provide are going to be ambitious but also just. We already had a soft launch and attracted some media to help amplify the voices of vulnerable countries. And the global media got it! They realised that, yes indeed, there are more stories we can bring from different angles, not just the usual suspects, to enrich the conversation. A lot of solutions also come from vulnerable countries – they are not just begging for support. It’s the same way some communities most affected by climate change are indigenous people and it’s they who have so much knowledge.

Hopes for the future

If I had 10 minutes to speak at COP26, first I would highlight to leaders all that can happen in 10 minutes. All the ice that will melt in Antarctica; the thousands of children who will be born into poverty; the millions of plastic bottles that will be thrown away and hardly recycled; the 20 thousand tons of garbage that will be generated. So what are leaders waiting for? I would do everything to keep my speech to much less than 10 minutes because I would like them to make those minutes count towards action. Full of promise, leaders have already committed to one of the greatest agreements. There’s been enough blah, blah, blah. It’s time to align investment with the agreement.

I’ve got one son. That’s the future, he’s my hope. My biggest hope is in young leaders. When you see their energy in Fridays For Future, you see they can do so many things that we older generations can’t. They use technologies we’re not even thinking about. Yes, they’re young. But small kids can have a big impact. I hope they can help create more solidarity and true cooperation among countries. In the meantime, I will remain a stubborn optimist.

About

Yamide Dagnet is the Director of Climate Negotiations at the World Resources Institute.
Over the past nine years, she has led projects and engagement on climate negotiations for the design and the
implementation of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Yamide brings more than 18 years of experience in advancing environmental objectives, having worked for the European governments, a UK policy lead and negotiator on the UNFCCC measurement, reporting and verification framework, as UK Deputy Focal Point for the IPCC, as a reviewer under the UNFCCC of countries’ national policies, and as France’s focal point for the EU neighborhood policy and twinning program. She has also been a part-time senior country engagement specialist for the NDC Partnership, providing strategic advice and coordinated the cooperation and mobilised resources from donors and implementing agencies in least developed countries and small island states to fast-track the implementation and enhancement of their climate plans.

The IKEA Foundation is supporting the World Resources Institute because we believe that access to clean, affordable energy is essential for supporting sustainable communities while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.