The Buddhist Monk Who Helped Broker a Global Climate Deal

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2016-01-25 |
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon. From huffingtonpost.comZen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon. From

Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, the principal architect behind the historic climate agreement that emerged from the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21, in Paris last December, credits 89-year-old Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh as being the guiding hand that helped her push through the unprecedented deal that was eventually backed by 196 countries.

Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the Buddhist teachings of Thay, as Thich Nhat Hanh is affectionately known among his followers, gave her the compassion, wisdom, and strength she needed to take on the formidable task of brokering the climate deal while at the same time dealing with a deep personal crisis.

Speaking from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Figueres observed, “This has been a six-year marathon with no rest in between. I just really needed something to buttress me, and I don’t think that I would have had the inner stamina, the depth of optimism, the depth of commitment, the depth of the inspiration if I had not been accompanied by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.” (Huffington Post)

Thay was also one of 26 key signatories, all of them senior leaders from the global Buddhist community and including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to a landmark call to political leaders to adopt an effective climate change agreement. The Buddhist Climate Change Statement was presented to French president François Hollande at COP21.

Figueres recalled visiting Thay’s monastery in Waldbrol, Germany. Once the site of a mental institution until the Nazis exterminated the 700 patients there and took over the premises for the Hitler Youth movement during the Second World War, Thay transformed the site into a Buddhist monastery because, as Figueres related, “he wanted to prove that it is completely possible to turn pain into love, to turn being a victim into being a victor, to turn hate into love and forgiveness, and he was intent in showing that in this place that had been associated with such absolute, inhuman cruelty.” (Huffington Post)

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. From un.orgChristiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. From

“It was such a powerful story for me, right?” Figueres emphasized. “Because in many ways, that is the journey that we have been on in the climate negotiations. It is a journey from blaming each other, to actually collaborating.

“It’s actually been for me internally a beautiful journey of healing. So for me, I’ve sort of been living life at many different levels, because I had to turn my own personal crisis, I had to transform that. I’m still in the midst of that, I’m not going to say I’m way over on the other side, but I had to do that for myself,” she said. “I felt this is exactly the energy that the climate change convention negotiations need, all inspired, you know, by this amazing teaching.” (Huffington Post)

Thich Nhat Hanh, born Nguyen Xuan Bao on 11 October 1926, is an influential Zen teacher, a poet, and the author of more than 100 books. As an advocate for peace, he encouraged non-violent protests during the Vietnam War. Thay founded the Order of Interbeing and the Unified Buddhist Church, and in 1982 established the Plum Village Buddhist center in France with his colleague Sister Chan Khong. He has been a central figure in the transmission of Buddhism to the West and in marrying an authentic Zen tradition and lineage with a progressive approach to issues such as social activism, science versus faith, and religion versus spirituality.

Thay was hospitalized in France in November 2014 following a severe brain hemorrhage. He was flown to San Francisco in July 2015 to undergo a more intensive rehabilitation program at the UCSF Medical Center where, in September last year, he spoke his first words since his stroke. Thay returned to Plum Village in early January, where he continues to receive medical treatment.

See more

This Buddhist Monk Is An Unsung Hero In The World's Climate Fight (Huffington Post)
Was A Buddhist Monk Responsible For The Paris Climate Agreement? (Politicus USA)
Christiana Figueres
Buddhistdoor View: The Great Danger and Fear to Come—Global Catastrophe and the Dharma-ending Age (Buddhistdoor Global)
Thich Nhat Hanh Returns to Plum Village (Buddhistdoor Global)
Buddhist Climate Change Statement Delivered to President Hollande (Buddhistdoor Global)
Top Buddhists Sign Landmark Statement on Climate Change to Global Leaders (Buddhistdoor Global)

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