Issue 136 - April 26 - Five Candidates on Shortlist for UNFCCC Post

New York, April 26, 2010 - Five candidates for the post of Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be interviewed by the UN Secretary-General's Selection Committee beginning this week, according to reliable sources speaking to the UNelections Campaign.

The short-listed candidates are:

  • Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica
  • Janos Pasztor of Hungary
  • Marthinus van Schalkwyk of South Africa
  • Vijai Sharma of India
  • Elizabeth Thompson of Barbados

Following the interviews, two or three candidates are expected to be recommended to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will make the final decision in consultation with the UNFCCC.

The current head of the UNFCCC since September 2006, Yvo de Boer, announced his resignation effective July 1, 2010, two months before the end of his first term. News of his resignation immediately sparked the search for a successor, who will be responsible for carrying on de Boer's work to ensure the creation of a ‘successor' agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.


The UNelections Campaign previously reported on three of the candidates, whose governments had made the nominations public:

In total, eleven countries nominated candidates, the UN indicated on April 15. The UN would not name candidates or the nominating countries, but several candidates were identified by their governments and other reports, including Mr. Pasztor and Ms. Thompson.

Other reported candidates, who are not on the list of those to be interviewed, included Tariq Banuri of Pakistan, María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, and Grace Akumu of Kenya.

Indonesia had been among the first countries to claim an interest in the UNFCCC post, and observers speculated throughout February and March about which of the country's international environment and climate experts would be nominated. On March 25 the president's assistant on climate change issues, Agus Purnomo, "insisted that Indonesia would have a candidate" said The Jakarta Post. But, on March 26 The Jakarta Post reported that "three of four names tipped" as potential nominees had "refused to be nominated." They included Hassan Wirajuda, Rachmat (not interested in the post and wanted to focus on strengthening the country's position in global climate talks) and Liana Bratasida, expert to environment minister on international cooperation (although the environment minister asked her to contest, "I have talked with Environment Minister Pak Gusti Muhammad Hatta and told him I was not ready for the post.") Other rumored potential candidates included Purnomo himself and former environment minister Rachmat Witoelar. On April 1 The Jakarta Post reported that, according to an Indonesian official, it was not possible to find someone with the qualifications required, in particular experience managing 150 staff. These criteria "hampers many candidates eligibility from developing nations."

The reports of Indonesia's decision not to put forward a candidate were contradicted during Barbados' press conference upon its nomination of Elizabeth Thompson for the post. In the press conference summary published by UN News, Indonesia was included on the list of governments who had nominated candidates (along with Costa Rica, South Africa, and India).

Janos Pasztor

The director of the Climate Change Support Team for the UN Secretary-General, Janos Pasztor of Hungary was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Science.

He began his career as an Energy Officer at UNEP and the World Commission on Environment and Development, and worked at the UNCED secretariat in preparation for the Rio Earth Summit. Pasztor served at the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany for the first 14 years of its existence, during which time he was the Coordinator/Officer-in-Charge of the Project-based Mechanisms Programme. 

He speaks English, French, Spanish, Hungarian, and German. 

Pasztor recently confirmed his candidacy and stressed that he would not take part in the selection process, nor any UNFCCC-related matters. In the UN noon briefing on April 15, spokesperson Martin Nesirky confirmed Pasztor's nomination to the post, which was an exception to the UN Secretariat's usual policy of confidentiality about candidates for high-level posts. Pasztor's candidacy was confirmed, Nesirky explained, because of his position within the Secretariat. Moreover, in light of Pasztor's candidacy for the UNFCCC post, he had been "asked to disassociate himself from activities relating to the UNFCCC with immediate effect...upon announcement of his candidacy."

Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Thompson of Barbados was formerly the country's Minister of Environment. She was educated at Robert Gordon University in Scotland, and received her MBA from the University of Liverpool and her LLB from the University of the West Indies. According to at least one report, Thompson is the candidate of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Among her achievements as Minister of Environment Thompson took part in drafting the Bali Action Plan She has also served as Minister of Energy, Housing and Lands, Physical Development and Planning, and Health, as well as Attorney General of Barbados. In 2008, Ms. Thompson was awarded the UNEP Champion of the Earth Award.

Since serving as Minister of Environment, Thompson has worked as a consultant practice leader at Isada Law Chambers in Barbados at which she "has reviewed energy and environmental legislation and developed national sustainable energy policies for 4 Caribbean countries."

Thompson's candidature has received mixed reviews. Some endorsed her candidature, calling Thompson "well equipped" for the post. In a press conference at UN headquarters on April 15, Thompson received the endorsement of CARICOM. A spokesperson for the group highlighted the candidate's status as a native of a small island State, "somewhat removed from the great power intrigue and not necessarily an ideologue on either the North-South divide or East-West divide." Consequently, her supporters emphasize the former Minister's ability to substantially address and promote the issues of climate change for developing small nations, as well as being "politically talent[ed]...and [possessing] political gravitas befitting the importance of the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC." Others are outraged by her appointment, including the Barbados Free Press, and cite failed ventures as Minister of Environment that resulted in the "wasting ... taxpayer's money." Other critics describe her as "unethical ...[and] totally untrustworthy." 

Thompson is one of two candidates who have given a press briefing at the UN on her candidacy. The other is Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica's candidate.

Selection Process

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is responsible for identifying and selecting a successor to Yvo de Boer. Ban is expected to consult with the UNFCCC Conference of Parties' (COP) Bureau in making an appointment. The precise role of the COP Bureau in his decision-making has not been clarified by the UN Secretariat or the UNFCCC.

On March 11, the Secretariat circulated a call for nominations, including position guidelines, which highlight criteria that a successful candidate would need to fill.

The letter said:

  • Missions to the UN were requested to nominate candidates for the position of UNFCCC Executive Secretary by March 31.
  • The position of Executive Secretary "is currently at the Assistant Secretary-General level [but] may be upgraded to that of Under-Secretary-General depending on the outcome of a review to be undertaken by the Secretary-General of the structure of the UNFCCC secretarial, including of the level of the Executive Secretary."
  • The Secretary-General, in consultation with the COP Bureau, had identified criteria to be used in the selection of candidates. The criteria are:
    • Commitment to a global strategy to address climate change and its consequences through the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol;
    • Capacity to work with the President, the Bureau and the delegates of the Conference of the Parties, and the willingness to provide objective leadership when required;
    • Proven skills in management and the capacity to provide leadership to an autonomous secretariat of approximately 450 staff and a total expenditure of up to USD 100 million per year
    • Vision, high professional standing and knowledge of the issues involved in the climate change and sustainable development spheres;
    • Ability to, and experience in collaborating actively with the United Nations Secretary-General, with heads and senior staff of UN system agencies, funds and programmes as well as of other international entities, the private sector, and civil society organizations;
    • Excellent communication and representational skills;
    • Highest possible standards of integrity in professional and personal matters
  • The Secretary-General reserved some flexibility for himself in assembly a "sufficiently diverse pool of candidates," writing that he would "supplement any nominations received from member states with additional inputs and consultations."
  • The Secretary-General would identify a shortlist of candidates, conduct "a rigorous interview procedure," and on that basis select the candidate that best meets the criteria indicated.
  • Before making the formal appointment, the Secretary-General will consult with the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC.

The typical process for a high-level appointment made by the UN Secretary-General is for a selection committee to be established, made up of UN officials ranking as Assistant Secretaries-General (the level of the post being filled) or higher. The selection committee - established and overseen by the office of Ban's Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar - reviews the candidatures, conducts interviews, and makes recommendations to the Secretary-General. Ban, in turn, will make the final selection.

On March 31, the spokesperson for the Secretary-General said, "I am not in a position now to say how many applications or nominations have been received.... [E]ven if we were to give a figure or number of nominations, we would not - and that is standard procedure - give names or countries because it is a selection process.  So we would not get into that." In a noon press conference at UN headquarters on April 15, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Martin Nesirky, confirmed that eleven candidates had nominated (by eleven different countries) for the post.

Nesirky also reiterated, "... it is standard practice, not just for this job but for any job -- we do not reveal the names of candidates."

He added that the appointment would "be made following a normal competitive process run by a selection committee and in consultation with the bureau of the UNFCCC."

Review of UNFCCC Secretariat

As mentioned in the March 11 letter of the Secretary-General to governments, Ban plans to conduct a review of the structure of the UNFCCC Secretariat. The review will include the level of the Executive Secretary, i.e. whether Assistant Secretary-General is the appropriate level for the post or if it should be upgraded to Under-Secretary-General.

The outcome of this review could influence some candidates' interest in the position; those already at a ministerial level within their own governments, for example, may be reluctant to accept a post at the Assistant SG level.

UNelections and Appointments in the News