Issue 132 - March 12 - Search Begins for New Climate Leader

New York, March 12, 2010 - Following the news of Yvo de Boer's imminent resignation as Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), two countries have put forth candidates for the post, and others have expressed interest.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be responsible for finding a successor to de Boer, in consultation with the UNFCCC's administrative bureau. At least three governments have nominated a candidate for the post or expressed interest in doing so. India has nominated Vijai Sharma, a member of its environmental ministry, while Indonesia voiced the intention to put forward a candidate. And on March 7, South Africa nominated its minister of tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Selection Process

The selection of a new Executive Secretary for the UNFCCC reportedly has been initiated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban is expected to consult with the UNFCCC Conference of Parties' Bureau in identifying a successor.

States that have signed the UNFCCC, an international treaty, are known collectively as the Conference of Parties (COP). The COP is supported by a Bureau, made up of delegates from 11 COP member countries, representing the five regions. The Bureau handles administrative and management issues of the negotiation process, advises the President of the COP, and serves to represent each regional bloc and other groupings for negotiation. The current members of the COP Bureau are: Australia, Bahamas, Denmark, South Korea, Mali, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Sudan and Russia.

Ban is said to have written to the Bureau about the qualifications sought in candidates. The process will "take some months," said Ban's climate adviser Janos Pasztor, but would be completed by July.

Qualifications Sought

In identifying the qualities needed in a successor, many analysts pointed to de Boer's strengths. For Greenpeace Denmark, "De Boer's successor must be equally hard-working, committed and experienced and must be effective in rebuilding trust between countries. He or she must also ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are not sidelined by the most powerful."

The skills to manage and leader the hundreds of staff of the UNFCCC, along with a collaborative approach, were the qualities stressed by Pasztor.

Another UN official expanded on this profile, specifying that the person should be a "political leader with immense diplomatic skills." Further, he or she needs to be able to move easily between the developed and developing worlds, given the "divide you saw in Copenhagen." A candidate from a country that "felt excluded" at the December conference, i.e. from the Global South, may be preferable.

None of the UNFCCC's three Executive Secretaries has been from a developing country.

The preference or expectation of a developing country candidate was echoed by the Philippines' representative to the UN, an energy trader in Geneva, and a Canadian environmental spokesperson. An environmental official from Indonesia said, "It is time for developing countries to head the post to help break the deadlock on climate talks." A climate expert from the non-profit sector in Indonesia echoed the sentiment: "The climate talks need a fresh breakthrough that could come from developing countries." World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia adds: "It is about time that developing countries come forward and become leaders in this issue, because these countries will face the biggest challenges and impacts from climate change."

A climate news source noted other benefits to having an Executive Secretary from a developing country: "It will give the negotiations new life as developing countries might feel their interests will be given more priority." Moreover, "Since most developing countries aren't major sources of emissions, it's possible that future climate negotiations could find more a balance between talk of adapting to climate and mitigating it. India stands at the nexus of all these issues and having a representative from the country leading the UNFCCC would hopefully shed more light on them."

De Boer himself has supported the idea of a successor from a developing country.

However, some have emphasized the diversity within the so-called "developing world." While the "BASIC" group of large developing countries with growing economies (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) was instrumental in the Copenhagen negotiations, their "hardline" approach reportedly alienated least developed countries - "who stand most to lose from climate change." A candidate from a BASIC country may not have the full support of the rest of the developing world.

Finally, an expert on gender and climate change called for Ban to appoint a woman as Executive Secretary: "If we want to overcome gender inequalities, we need to have women in the climate change decision-making process.... Women like Joke Waller-Hunter [de Boer's predecessor] have guided the process in many positive ways."

Nominations and Potential Candidates

Two governments have nominated a candidate for the post, while a third intends to find a candidate.

India Nominates Minister

India's environmental minister reportedly wrote to the UN on February 22 to nominate Vijai Sharma for Executive Secretary. Vijai Sharma is a Secretary in India's Ministry of Environment and Forests.

According to several sources, Minister Jairam Ramesh said, "Vijai Sharma is our official candidate for UNFCCC executive secretary. I have written to the United Nations Monday and have also written to BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) countries seeking their support. We have got support from China already for his candidature and we will get support from other BASIC countries." Ramesh added that Sharma's appointment would reflect "India's importance in climate change negotiations." The candidate also would "provide a bridge between developing and developed worlds."

However, the United States reportedly "mistrusts" India and China following the Copenhagen Conference, a dynamic that could harm Sharma's chances.

India agreed this week to be listed as a party to the Copenhagen Accord, one of the last major emitters to make the commitment (China followed suit on March 11), although this status is not the same as full association with the Accord.

South Africa Nominates Marthinus van Schalkwyk

South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, nominated minister of tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk on March 7. Van Schalkwyk was environment minister from 2004-2009. In that capacity he participated in several climate change negotiations leading up to the Copenhagen Conference.

Succeeding F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's leader during apartheid, van Schalkwyk led the New National Party until it dissolved, upon merging with the African National Congress in 2004.

President Zuma said that van Schalkwyk had, "positioned South Africa as a true climate champion" during his time as Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Further, "he commanded significant respect across the developing-developed country divide. This will count greatly in his favour of driving the global climate change negotiations. Given that South Africa will also be hosting the climate change negotiations next year, it would indeed be an honour and privilege for the country to have one of its own to head up this very important UN institution."

In the event that the 2010 conference in Mexico also ends without a legally binding agreement, attention would shift to the 2011 conference in South Africa. In that case, UNFCCC sources believe, "having a South African chief at the helm would give the conference major impetus." The European Union's Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said in Parliament this week, "remaining differences between parties may delay agreement on this until next year." According to the UK's Guardian, "All observers, including ... de Boer, are now clear that no such deal will be signed in 2010, with a meeting in South Africa in December 2011 now seen as the earliest date."

Van Schalkwyk's nomination met with varied reactions. A climate official from an unspecified government said that as a candidate, van Schalkwyk "would be acceptable to most people, so he should definitely be counted as a favourite." Greenpeace Africa was "pleased to know Minister Van Schalkwyk is being considered and would be very confident that he would be equal to the task of replacing Mr. de Boer.... By all accounts, he has an excellent standing as a negotiator, and has earned a great deal of respect for being very engaged and informed." Moreover, "if he is appointed, developing countries, in particular, will have better access to him because he's coming from a developing country."

A very different perspective on van Schalkwyk has been expressed by others, including Patrick Bond of the Centre for Civil Society in South Africa: "The UNFCCC post must be headed by someone of integrity, and that's not a characteristic associated with Van Schalkwyk, thanks to his chequered career as an apartheid student spy and a man who sold out his political party for a junior cabinet seat." Bond also questioned the logic of the nomination: if Van Schalkwyk was a world-class climate diplomat, why did Zuma demote him by removing his environment duties last year?" Another article described him as "one of the most unpopular political figures in the new South Africa" and a "former apartheid operative who bartered his way into the black majority government by helping it smear its democratic opposition."

Earthlife Africa referred to van Schalkwyk's tenure as environment minister, during which he "did not have a good record in cutting carbon emissions."

South Africa itself, though, has more ambitious emissions reduction plans than India or Indonesia, according to Reuters.

While the U.S. is said to distrust India, South Africa is "seen as a bridge builder," perhaps making its candidate more likely to be accepted.

Indonesia Expresses Interest

After expressing interest in the UNFCCC post during the UNEP meeting of ministers in Bali on February 24-26, the Indonesian foreign ministry said that it had "approached a number of countries to express our interest in the job. We have to come out with the right candidate." On March 4, the website of the country's embassy in Rome, Italy featured an article that reported former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda as the government's preferred candidate.

Potential candidates reportedly include:

  • Liana Bratasida: Assistant to Environment Minister (expert on global environmental affairs and international cooperation); Chair of Subsidiary Body for Implementation at Bonn (2009), which addressed emission-cut targets, financing, mitigation and technology transfers; Former member of the Clean Development Mechanism, approved carbon projects
  • Agus Purnomo: Special Assistant on Climate Change to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; Secretary-General of National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) (which represents country at climate change negotiations; Headed 2007 national committee that organized Bali conference; Speculation as to Indonesia's candidate "has centered around" Purnomo
  • Emil Salim: Member of Advisory Council to President Yudhyono;         Former environment minister
  • Hassan Wirajud: Member of Advisory Council to President Yudhyono;    Former Foreign Minister, led Indonesia's delegation at the 2007 Bali conference, considered "mastermind behind the success" of that conference; Has "close relations" with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the two were foreign ministers of their countries during the same years
  • Rachmat Witoelar: Environment minister; President of Bali's Conference of the Parties (COP) 13 in 2007

According to an Indonesian politician on February 21, the country's "experience in making the Bali climate change talks a success could be a significant asset in winning the post." Moreover, "as a country vulnerable to climate change, Indonesia needs a breakthrough to resolve the problems and this can be achieved if Indonesia takes the lead in global talks on climate change."

Costa Rica's Climate Negotiator is "carbon market's favorite"

Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica is "leading the pack" for potential candidates from the private sector, according to the website "Carbon Finance."

Figueres is Costa Rica's climate change negotiator, with particular experience on the Clean Development Mechanism, on which she co-Chaired the negotiating group at the Copenhagen Conference. Figueres also advises several governments and private investment companies, and she founded the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas.

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