Considered by many as an excellent negotiator and highly regarded in the climate sphere, Teresa Ribera’s path has seen itself intertwined with diverse ministries, organisations, and institutes. When discerning the critical moment for who Teresa Ribera is today and who she was during her climate formation, one can find a distinctive before and after for her career. Having served as the Spanish Secretary of State for Climate Change from 2008 to 2011 and as the Spanish Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge since 2018, a pivotal moment comes in the form of the leadership of a sustainable development think tank.
In between two ministerial stints came her role as director of the Parisian-based IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations), where Teresa Ribera’s name became elevated among experts in the European climate arena and where her climate policy aims were distinctly shaped.
After her first ministerial stint within the Spanish administration, her position as director of the IDDRI made Teresa Ribera’s name assume greater importance and influence within the European policy dimension. Taking into account the high esteem and reputation of the IDDRI, Ribera’s head position highlighted her abilities to navigate climate negotiations successfully with many of the institute’s targets — comprised of academic communities, governments, civil society, and the private sector.
By coming into the institute with new challenges facing the climate action community, her role encompassed leading impact strategies on climate governance, and the building of IDDRI’s networks and interventions. Being a leading think tank on sustainable development worldwide, IDDRI has been highly recognized for its contribution to the Paris Agreement during Ribera’s leadership of the institute — with the agreement following IDDRI’s ambition for international cooperation and transformation.
The institute’s mission statement reflects a call to rebuild multilateralism, accompanied by trust, partnership, collective action, and democracy. Its mission has made it an influential institute in the international arena, covering its expertise in the following climate-related areas: climate, biodiversity, ocean, Agenda 2030, deep decarbonization pathways, agriculture, and lifestyles.
Most notably before her leadership at the IDDRI, as Spanish Secretary of State for Climate Change, Ribera was responsible for environmental policies and the National Meteorological Agency. It was only after her time as Secretary that Ribera gained new insights at IDDRI that would later shape her view and take on climate policy and its implementation.
Now, Ribera looks back at her leadership as Secretary of State for Climate Change with a different perspective, highlighting actions that were amiss during her time in office. Key aspects that were not taken into consideration can be encompassed in the following two points. Firstly, the office lacked organised development and implementation strategies, with Ribera now admitting a lack of understanding at the time to develop phase-out plans for certain energies and the needed strategies to implement renewable energy incentives. Secondly, the ecological transition policies were deemed by Ribera as one-dimensional and without the adjective of just being added to transition plans.
Now, with the placing of people at the centre of discussions in just transitions, Ribera understands the implications of accepting endpoints in discussions for long-term results. Attributing these new-found insights to her time at the IDDRI, Ribera gained a different perspective in major part due to her collaboration during the Paris Agreement drafting process. During this time, the institute’s understanding of sustainability and climate issues provided her with a greater comprehension of the necessity to find common grounds within multilateral agendas when drafting possible adaptation and transition routes.
Furthermore, changes in the landscape from the past decade have meant a radical change and ambition for an ecological transition, with actions undertaken from 2008 to 2011 during Ribera’s first ministerial stint viewed now with drastically different lenses. Before the Paris Agreement and Ribera’s participation in negotiation talks, environmental action was targeting transitory solutions with a reductionist aim and not a transformative one. The need for drastic changes, net zero and long-term ambitions came after negotiations in Paris.
By engaging in collective action in order to strengthen the ecological tradition, the agreement’s understanding of interdependent action introduced other agents — including the involvement of local governments and businesses. Ribera’s actions, thus, shifted from a previous climate action landscape of 2011 to have as priorities for climate action the establishment of governance systems based on cooperation between the different levels and areas of society, alongside consistent shifts with instructions for both transformation and adaptation guidelines.
Subsequently, it could be stated that Ribera’s time at the IDDRI consolidated her interest and aim towards an environmental transition that considered the economic and social aspects, creating a just transition agenda for her second and current ecological ministerial stint. Understanding the importance of multidimensional agendas for solving climate-related issues, Ribera took on IDDRI’s centre points as a personal conviction for her next position: mitigation of climate change, ensuring food and resource security and creating an environment for sustainable economic growth in Spain. Additionally, her work towards the Paris Agreement likewise meant a close follow-up with the need for the implementation of long-term emission development strategies, fair transition measures, and involvement of all economic stakeholders.
The expertise Ribera obtained on various climate-related areas during her time leading the institute created the following understandings and ‘non-negotiables’ for her work in the ecological transition of Spain. In terms of an energy transition, Ribera took IDDRI’s focus on decarbonising the economy alongside the transition. Likewise, she reached a bigger understanding of the importance of effective cooperation within Europe for a change as big as an ecological transition would require, with a priority on instruments that facilitate multilateral agreements which recognize the interconnectedness of the region. Ribera’s focus on a regional level also elevated itself to a global one, with a particular emphasis on the IDDRI’s understanding of global supply chains, their affectations on the climate, and sustainably just configurations.
On another side, the IDDRI’s focus on international affairs grouped for the particular focus Ribera created during her time as chief at the institute. Questioning the role of Europe in the geopolitical global landscape, she understood the available opportunities and importance of a demand for and the benefits of having domestic sustainable development agendas that place member states in positions of gaining traction towards achieving climate goals by 2030 — both for geopolitical gain and a transformation of society in terms of economic and political interests, while achieving sustainable development objectives directly and indirectly.
Additionally, while developing a complex analysis of the global reality through the focus on global affairs, phenomena such as globalisation have provided Ribera with a grasp and critical analysis ability on the affectations that current economic and societal models have implicated for inequality and its proportionate relation with the climate. Thus, following IDDRI’s emphasis comes an understanding of public budgets to be orientated towards investments for future innovation, and further progress for economic and social models aligned with earthly limits.
Now, Teresa Ribera’s name presents a voice in the climate arena formed and elevated during her stint as the IDDRI’s director. From 2014 to 2018, Ribera gained credibility and headed IDDRI as an international advisory body on climate governance systems, with Ribera effectively becoming an acting knowledge broker for climate decision-making and the link between the economy, science, societal aspects, and their intersection. Working along with the private sector, international policy processes, and research, Ribera thus became a name associated with informed political choices that do not confine themselves to passivity and instead aim to be confrontational and engaging.
Said ambition reflects itself on challenges to be solved after Ribera’s time at the IDDRI, with economic and emissions neutrality presenting themselves as the factors that Ribera’s formation as the institute’s director prepared her for. In order to take action, Ribera went into her role as Minister for the Ecological Transition and Demographic challenge with the reputation and authority to implement her previous work to begin involving local authorities, the private sector, and civil society in endorsing her climate and social agenda, whilst translating her findings on the international arena to domestic implementations for stakeholders within Spain.
With a clear and pressing need for a successful ecological transition, Ribera’s implementation started a path toward the feasibility of a transition supported by short, medium, and long-term plans for the Spanish energy sector, the economy, and society as a whole that present a basis for the construction of sustainable development and a coherent path for societal transformations.
IExRAIA Summer Research Program:
This article is an excerpt from a report on Teresa Ribera produced as part of an RAIA research program on climate leaders. For a full picture of Teresa Ribera’s climate leadership read the full report. This project was fully financed by IE University’s School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs.
Authors: Ajinkya Deshpande & Valeria Eggers
Editor: Alberto Campos Moya
Project Lead: Joshua Dario Hasenstab