CAN-International recently sent the following letter to Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations in order to inform his search for a replace to Yvo de Boer, who announced he will be stepping down later this year as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Dear Mr. Secretary-General:
As the world’s largest network of NGOs collaborating on global solutions to the climate crisis, with an active engagement with the UNFCCC process since its inception, we at the Climate Action Network – International wish to support your efforts to fill the vacancy left by Yvo de Boer’s impending departure.
As you continue your search for a new head of the UNFCCC, we urge you to keep the following principles in mind while assessing potential candidates:
1. Commitment to the science: The fundamental objective of the UNFCCC under Article 2 is to avoid dangerous climate change. This objective has guided and should always guide the work of its Secretariat. As such, any head of the UNFCCC must have a sound understanding and fundamental adherence to the scientific basis for combating climate change, applying the precautionary principle in order to ensure the Convention fulfills its objective.
2. Political savvy and leadership: The UNFCCC in conjunction with global civil society has been successful in raising the profile and urgency of climate change effectively at the highest levels. Over 100 Heads of State attended Copenhagen and their continued engagement is both expected and essential. In this context, the new head of the UNFCCC must be able to thoroughly engage leaders and governments at every political level. This skill set must also include the strategic use of media, public attention, and private discourse.
3. Understanding of and experience with the negotiations: As our collective understanding of the climate crisis deepens, the negotiations within the UNFCCC continue to become more complex. Add to that the many challenging procedural dynamics and negotiating tactics, and it becomes clear that any candidate must demonstrate a deep understanding of how negotiations are to be managed from both procedural and strategic perspectives. Better still would be direct experience in the negotiations, to enable a deeper understanding as well as garnering trust from parties.
4. Commitment to the valuable role of civil society and marginalized communities in particular: The global civil society community engaged on finding a solution to the climate crisis has become larger, more organized, more strategic and ever more effective in recent years. Further, the UN and its members have consistently affirmed and reaffirmed the importance of civil society participation in the negotiating process. Notably, indigenous peoples, women and youth are often or will be most affected by climate change but very often, unfortunately their voices struggle to be heard. Any new head of the UNFCCC must work closely with civil society, women, indigenous peoples and youth (in cooperation with the Parties) to ensure proper, complete and effective participation of these constituencies. A demonstrable track record to this effect would be an important qualification for any candidate.
5. Thorough understanding of the challenges of development in the Global South: Climate change poses an existential threat to many lives and livelihoods throughout the world, but most the threat is most acute in the poorest communities. The challenge of addressing climate change and promoting sustainable development must always be approached in the context of existing challenges of poverty eradication and parallel development challenges. In addition, participating in the international negotiations themselves can often present a challenge to the poorest and most vulnerable countries in particular. The most vulnerable countries must be supported by the Secretariat (in cooperation with the Parties) to ensure their proper representation and voice in the process. A candidate with a keen and thorough understanding of these challenges is needed in order to achieve the right solutions.
6. Willingness to be assertive: Climate change is here, now. An aggressive and rapid response is urgently required, and the UNFCCC needs a leader who is willing to be bold and guide Parties along the ambitious path that is so desperately required. At the same time, of course, the head of the UNFCCC needs to ensure Parties feel their voices are being heard and that their concerns are being addressed in this context. However, the successful candidate must not be timid nor unwilling to take risks where required.
7. Commitment to transparency, process, and cooperation: The political stakes at the international climate negotiations have never been higher than at present time. As a result the tensions surrounding the negotiations are heightened as well. In this super-heated atmosphere, principles of transparency, good process, and cooperation can help to avoid unnecessary controversies. An leader with a strong commitment to these principles can help keep the focus of negotiations on delivering a fair and ambitious outcome rather than on procedural issues.
8. Commitment to smooth logistics: The Secretariat has an important role to play in ensuring the negotiations run smoothly from a logistical standpoint. Similar to the issues around transparency and process, ineffective or defective logistical arrangements can add distractions to the negotiations rather than contribute, while proper arrangements can obviously help provide an effective negotiating atmosphere. A head of the UNFCCC with a commitment to ensuring efficient negotiation arrangements will help to ensure the Parties and Observers can both focus on the incredibly important issues at hand.
In addition to the key qualities outlined above, we urge you to select someone who can inspire. Talks are currently at a tipping point. They need someone who can show that not only is a fully agreed international process for transitioning to a low carbon society urgently needed, but that it is achievable and indeed, the only way forward. We need someone who can challenge our leaders to do better, who can join the calls of millions of global citizens all around the world demanding that their governments do more on their behalf.
We in the Climate Action Network – International stand at the ready to assist you in any way as you complete your search for a successful candidate. Further, once a candidate is confirmed, we very much look forward to working closely with the successful candidate to ensure the Convention achieves its ultimate objectives.
Finally, as Mr. de Boer enters his final days as Executive Secretary, we would like to commend his work in furthering the negotiations, his sincere commitment to their success and his efforts to support civil society within the process. The next Executive Secretary will clearly have big shoes to fill.
Director, Climate Action Network - International
Cc: Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Richard Kinley, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Janos Pasztor, Director, UN Secretary-General’s Climate Support Team
Members of the UNFCCC COP15 Bureau