Climate Chief Nominated For UN Secretary General

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On Friday, the world received another candidate for the role of UN Secretary General. She’s a major figure familiar to all players in the international movement to forestall and adapt to climate change: Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary (head) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Christiana Figueres, former UN climate head and new candidate for UN Secretary General (Courtesy of UNFCCC)
Christiana Figueres, former UN climate head and new candidate for UN Secretary General (Courtesy of UNFCCC)

As a player in international climate negotiations since the 1990s, who headed the UN climate change task force for the past 6½ years, Figueres brokered the final worldwide agreement signed last December in Paris. It commits virtually all nations on earth to approach the challenges of greenhouse gas emissions directly and together for the first time.

In Paris, all 195 countries of the UN agreed to limit global warming to two degrees Centigrade (preferably less) over preindustrial levels. Each country defined its own situation and set initial emissions limits (INDCs) in accordance with its assessment. The total cuts proposed in this first round will not achieve the overall goal, but they offer both a sound foundation and a resilient framework for making more effective steps in the future.

The 5 permanent members of the Security Council (US, China, France, Russia, UK), under consultation with other nations, will choose the next UN Secretary General. The General Assembly will formally appoint him or her by October 2016, when South Korean minister Ban Ki-Moon stands down after almost 10 years. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has made climate issues one of the pillars of his international leadership. Combined, they are arguably the broadest threat we now face to the existing world order, encompassing everything from individual hardship to national migration and war.

Other principal candidates:

  • Helen Clark, a longtime prime minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Programme,
  • António Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal and former UN refugee chief,
  • Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of the UN agency UNESCO, and
  • Vesna Pusić, former Croatian foreign minister.

Christiana Figueres, former UN climate head and new candidate for UN Secretary General, meets Pope Francis, the "Ecopope" (Courtesy of UNFCCC)Following UN custom, the president of her home country (Costa Rica), Luis Guillermo Solís, nominated Figueres. The occasionally fiery but usually congenial, unruffled official, daughter of a three-time Costa Rican president, has shown a transparent and patient leadership style since the failed Copenhagen conference of 2009, after which she took office as climate head. Soliciting expert help, Figueres finally brought together the competing interests of nations at all stages of development to achieve the Paris deal.

From Nick Mabey, chief executive of London-based think-tank E3G, per the Financial Times:

“We need the UN more than ever. It is an important constant that transcends social and political unrest but we need it to be fit for purpose. The new secretary-general must follow through on the major international agreements struck last year and climate-proof the UN system.”

In the obligatory vision statement, Figueres makes clear the elements of her approach to the Secretary General post:

“If appointed, my time in office will be guided by two ways of working [collaboration and integration] and will pursue four priorities:

  1. Peaceful settlement of disputes and strengthening our crisis response capacity,
  2. Planting the seeds today to achieve a sustained peace tomorrow,
  3. Forging an inclusive model of multilateralism: collaborative diplomacy, [and]
  4. Strengthening the United Nations.”

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