New Great Negotiator Case and Video: Christiana Figueres, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary

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Great Negotiator Christiana Figueres

The Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School periodically presents the Great Negotiator Award to an individual whose lifetime achievements in the field of negotiation and dispute resolution have had a significant and lasting impact. In 2022, PON selected Christiana Figueres as the recipient of its Great Negotiator Award for her efforts to build momentum for, and ultimately pass the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres was tasked with a seemingly insurmountable challenge of putting together an impactful, global climate agreement to save the planet. Coming out of the dramatic failure of the Copenhagen summit, many believed that such an agreement was not possible. However, with persistent optimism and careful, targeted interventions aimed at building momentum, in 2015 the Paris Agreement was unanimously adopted by the 196 participating nations and set forth a new framework for international climate agreements.

Figueres had to personally undergo a transformation to let go of her identity as a Costa Rican diplomat so she could approach the negotiations from a global perspective and meet each participating nation from their perspective. The negotiation process itself was not just the two-week conference in Paris but instead was a years-long series of actions taken by Figueres and others to help enhance the probability of a successful outcome at the negotiating table. These actions included things like discussions with private industry groups, repeated talks with the Saudi government, and Operation Groundswell, in which a small team of strategic influencers worked with partners behind the scenes to build support for an ambitious outcome. By bringing different coalitions of countries and non-state actors together to lead the way, a more expansive agreement became possible.

Newly available from the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) at the Program on Negotiation is a case study based on Figueres’ efforts to pass the Paris Agreement, as well as video interviews with Figueres where she describes some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in the negotiations.

Christiana Figueres and the Collaborative Approach to Negotiating Climate Action – New Great Negotiator Case Study

This in-depth case study goes through Figueres’ time as a Costa Rican diplomat and then as UNFCCC Executive Secretary while she worked to overcome deep global pessimism and built momentum for the 2015 Paris Agreement. Major lessons of this case include:

  • Coalition and spoiler management in complex international treaty negotiations
  • Principal-agent dynamics
  • Active listening and difficult conversations
  • Building momentum for an agreement
  • Power dynamics in negotiation
  • Deal implementation and sustainability

Download a free preview copy of the Figueres Case Study Teacher’s Package to learn more about this case.

Christiana Figueres: Great Negotiator Video Interviews

PON honored Christiana Figueres as its Great Negotiator in April 2022. This included a public session interview attended by students, faculty, and guests at Harvard Law School, as well as an in-depth private session interview, where Figueres answered questions and offered insights on the negotiation process. Both the public and private video interviews are included in this video package. These videos provide useful analysis of the negotiation process by Figueres herself, and can be used with the Figueres Case Study, or on their own. Below, check out a preview of the private session interview with Figueres and Professors James Sebenius and Hannah Riley Bowles:

Click here to learn more and download the Christiana Figueres Video Interviews. 


Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

TNRC negotiation exercises and teaching materials are designed for educational purposes. They are used in college classroom settings or corporate training settings; used by mediators and facilitators seeking to introduce their clients to a process or issue; and used by individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Negotiation exercises and role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Our videos, books, case studies, and periodicals are also a helpful way of introducing students to key concepts while addressing the theory and practice of negotiation and conflict management.

Which negotiation exercises have helped you? Let us know in the comments.

Check out all that the TNRC has in store >> 


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