For this year’s UN climate conference COP25, the Chilean president selected BMW Foundation Responsible Leader Gonzalo Muñoz for the position of “High-Level Climate Champion.” Gonzalo just published a letter which calls on all actors – cities, regions, businesses, and investors – to join Chile’s Climate Ambition Alliance at COP25. In this interview, he speaks about his dreams and hopes for the event.
COP25 had to move from Chile to Spain. What does this mean for your work as High-Level Champion?
Gonzalo Muñoz : Chile is going through a crisis, which prevented it from being able to remain host of the COP25. We had to shift to Spain, and that’s how we have been able to start on time, thanks to the generosity and collaboration of the Spanish government and people. They managed an extraordinary achievement in creating the necessary infrastructure on time. We still have all the elements to make this a success. This is in itself an example of support and collaboration between nations, and underlines not just the importance of alliance and multilateralism, but also the potential it has to solve complex situations. This is also highly relevant in how it can apply to sustainable advancement and development for the whole world.
COP stands for “Conference of Parties." This is related to an international environmental treaty adopted in 1992, whose official name is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The original framework sets non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but the yearly conference has developed various “protocols” on top of the original agreements. One of the most famous was the Kyoto Protocol from 1997, which established legally binding obligations for reducing carbon emissions. Each year, the participating countries and territories (now 197 in number) send leaders and negotiators to discuss and shape a coordinated global response to our climate emergency. This year is the 25th COP, hence COP25. Around 25,000 people are expected to descend on the talks. It was originally supposed to take place in Brazil, then it was moved to Chile, and it is now happening in Spain.
Chile is one of the world’s most socially unequal countries. Are protesters even bothered about climate issues right now?
Gonzalo Muñoz: The situation in Chile highlights that social issues are integrally part of the world of climate action. That should always guide our negotiations and activities. Our demands have an ever greater relevance for the positive impact they can have, not just for the Chilean people but for all the world. We hope the COP will create a lot of reflection and direct impact.
Why was it important for Chile to step forward and host the COP?
Gonzalo Muñoz: If Chile can push the sustainability agenda, it shows how small countries can put themselves at the service of the global agenda. That’s the great mandate. We can’t just leave this in the hands of the big multinationals and the big powers of the world, but the moment has arrived when all of us have a role to fulfill, and we should all put ourselves at the service of the climate agenda and mobilize action.
"If Chile can push the sustainability agenda, it shows how small countries can put themselves at the service of the global agenda."
Why would you say you were selected as Champion of COP25?
Gonzalo Muñoz : The role of Champion started at COP21 in Paris in 2015, but the first four Champions were more involved in negotiations. So what Chile has done is set a powerful signal that we’re pushing climate action through non-state actors. In the last ten years I’ve made an effort to connect business with humanity’s challenges. Every company must exist in order to solve problems instead of creating them. So in some way my role has been to create this bridge, both conceptual and practical, connecting the business world with the creation of public value.
What’s the importance of your role, and what are your hopes for it?
Gonzalo Muñoz: The role is all about working to realize agreements made by the governments, in this case the Paris Agreement. Then, conveying the sense of urgency from the UN Panel of Experts that we must move much more quickly towards carbon neutrality. Now is the opportunity to connect how people and consumers interact with each other and with the market. My role is to make clearer what needs to be done and to accelerate everything towards that goal of carbon neutrality.
Gonzalo Muñoz was nominated by the Chilean presidency as High-Level Climate Champion for COP25, a role from which he is mobilizing climate action in non-state actors all around the world. He is also the founder of TriCiclos, one of Latin America’s leading recycling companies that has the mission to foster new designs for a world without waste. Gonzalo was awarded the Circulars Award at the World Economic Forum. He is co-founder of Sistema B, the Latin American version of B Corporation. Gonzalo is a member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network. He won the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Award in 2016.
How does your experience with TriCiclos inform your perspective on the COP agenda?
Gonzalo Muñoz: The circular economy is obviously a very important tool to resolve our climate crisis. The climate crisis is a consequence of the linear economy, based on extracting natural resources, such as fossil fuels. Alternative energy means renewable energy. 55% of solutions to the climate crisis will come from better energy systems, the other 45% from applying circular economy mechanisms in all systems of production and design.
What about all the actors who are not prepared to change how they do things?
Gonzalo Muñoz: My belief today is that, if I gather all the businessmen of Chile and ask them, “How much are you worried about the climate crisis, and how many of you are ready to advance on climate action?,” the great majority would say that they’re worried and that they want to be part of the solution. Without any doubt. There is still a fundamental resistance when it comes to companies that have trouble understanding the situation or that are afraid of change… as anyone could be. Some are quick to understand and some aren’t. But just because people are uncomfortable doesn’t mean the crisis doesn’t exist. And if they don’t act they will be left behind.
"The BMW Foundation network has facilitated me to connect, validate ideas, and at the same time has made it possible for me to learn enormously from other members of the network."
What has been the impact of the BMW Foundation on your work and on your involvement with the COP?
Gonzalo Muñoz: The BMW Foundation network has facilitated me to connect, validate ideas, and at the same time has made it possible for me to learn enormously from other members of the network. For me it’s a space where I feel very welcomed – it’s like my family – and I’m very thankful for the level of support I’ve received. Receiving the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Award in 2016 was a tipping point in my professional career. It allowed me to be exposed to conversations, topics, and platforms I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. In fact, I literally carry it on my business card as a reference. The logo of the BMW Foundation makes me feel very proud, to show the world I’m a member of the network.
Talking of the Foundation and its mission, which is to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda: Do you think they are achievable?
Gonzalo Muñoz: I wake up every day with a good measure of realism, and then I make the decision to be optimistic. And then I act on the basis of constructing the scenario that we need to build. And for that, the framework is the SDGs, which give us a tremendous amount of clarity on where to focus. It’s very valuable to see how the world has been advancing together. We have to make the SDGs part of everybody’s agenda and achieve them. I cannot imagine a future in which we don’t fulfill these objectives.
What is your dream for COP?
Gonzalo Muñoz: It’s very simple. I hope we will see the list of members of the climate ambition alliance grow. This will show the world how urgent our task is, but also that there’s no reason we can’t become carbon neutral by 2050. To show the world that we can do it.