Architects, planners, and policymakers all gathered for a June 20th dinner at the Architectural League of New York, where they conferred this year’s President’s Medal on Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The President’s Medal is the League’s highest honor and was awarded to Figueres for her role in negotiating the 2015 Paris Agreement; the multi-country accord created voluntary emission limits that were designed to keep global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Medal recipients are selected by the League’s President and Board of Directors and recognize those who have had an outsized impact in art, architecture, the environment, urbanism, and design.
Ecologist and Manahatta author Eric Sanderson, landscape architect and educator Kate Orff, architect Anna Dyson, Architectural League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro, and League President Billie Tsien were on hand to laud Figueres.
“As architects, designers, and builders,” said Tsien as she presented Figueres with the award, “we honor her for offering us a model of action based on moral commitment and hope, and for demonstrating how to act with urgency and boldness to take on the encompassing challenge of our era, and in doing so, to imagine the possibility of a better world.”
All of the speakers touched on Figueres’ role in bridging environmental concerns with the built environment, and the League’s role in advocating around climate issues.
“Moreover, it’s an incredible moment for the League,” said Kate Orff, “a treasured cultural organization that over the years has laureled artists, architects, planners, and patrons of the city, to pivot to a broader context and honor a champion of the planet itself.”
Figueres herself echoed the same sentiment in her acceptance speech. “I happen to think that urban spaces are where the new relationship between nature and society will germinate and thrive. And I also happen to think that this is where a lot of […] societal healing is going to take place.”
After stepping down from her UNFCCC role in the summer of 2016, Figueres now works as the Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of cities and local governments that are combatting climate change through local action. Figueres is also the convener of Mission2020, an initiative to drastically reduce worldwide CO2 emissions, and long-term climate damage, by 2020.