President Felipe Calderon on creating transformational changes

7 Jan 2019

At the Leadership Vanguard Exchange in Oslo, former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon spoke about being an agent for change and creating transformational changes in times of resistance and uncertainty.

"Leading and working against the circumstances will release the strongest version of yourself. In order to succeed you need to have a strong purpose and be honest with your own motive". Among the objectives of the session was to share the President's personal experience of being an agent for change on a global level with the Leadership Vanguard participants, the catalysts, encouraging them to reflect on what behaviour and traits are required by leaders in order to affect real and impactful change.

President Calderon is truly an agent for global change. As Mexico's President, he led the Cancún Climate Change Conference, COP16 in 2010, resulting in a global agreement to cut emissions and establish a fund to help the states most vulnerable to climate change. COP16 was a comprehensive collective effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and assist developing countries tackle climate change, including finance, technology and capacity building support.

Calderon was also named the 2011 Champion of the Earth, an award recognising outstanding environmental leaders, and is Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Reaching a global climate agreement

Reaching the Cancún agreement was a major achievement in a difficult time. "Pushing for a global climate change agreement right after such a devastating global financial crisis was extremely challenging. My team and I met tremendous resistance from leaders from business and governments, pointing to the failures of COP15 and arguing that tackling climate change was too costly and hard to achieve".

So how did Calderon and his government succeed in reaching a global climate agreement under such challenging circumstances? Part of the President's strategy was firstly to find out what had gone wrong in Copenhagen, and secondly to put himself in the position of the other negotiating parts.

"We understood that many governments felt excluded from the negotiation process in COP15. We therefore decided to split the problem and speak directly to the opposing parties and carefully considered their arguments. Based on these considerations we managed to draft a global climate commitment that included reducing twice as much carbon emissions as the Kyoto protocol. Developing countries, which had been resistant to commit earlier, were included".

Changing the climate change discourse

In order to mobilise support for tackling climate change, CalderÓn began changing the climate change discourse and the way that leaders spoke about climate change. "We decided to focus on making the economic case for fighting climate change. We stopped speaking only about the disastrous consequences on our planet and people. We began focusing on the financial benefits for businesses and countries". The Former President shared his learnings from the process with the Catalysts: "It is possible to mobilise global willingness to tackle climate change if you use rational arguments and the right instruments".

"Leaders can learn more from their failures than successes"

CalderÓn told the participants of the Leadership Vanguard programme that as leaders, they will go through times when they just want to quit. "There were moments I truly regretted organising a climate change conference, as there were so many risks and challenges involved", the President said. "To lead a change process, both in your own organisation or at a global level, you have to find out exactly what you need to do to overcome the situation". CalderÓn always focuses on the key learnings from the process. "You can learn much more from your failures and mistakes, than from the successes and achievements".

Xynteo's Leadership Vanguard is a year-long programme where senior leaders from across industries and around the world collaborate intensively to incubate solutions to problems that threaten the future of growth. The programme is now in its fifth year.

Read about the highlights from previous Leadership Vanguard Exchanges and field trips earlier this year here. See more photos from the Leadership Vanguard Exchange in Oslo here.