An opportunity for LDC leadership

Blog by
3 March 2016

As Christiana Figueres stands down as executive secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, IIED director Andrew Norton argues the time is right for an LDC representative to take the reins.

Who will replace the much respected executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres (Photo: UNFCCC, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Who will be the next executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)? Is it time for a representative from the Least Developed Countries Group – perhaps from Africa – to take the role?

These questions are now being discussed and at a crucial point in the climate process, there are good reasons to look for someone from an LDC background to fill the role.

Christiana Figueres has earned widespread admiration for her work in delivering the Paris Agreement but while the deal done in Paris was a significant achievement, there is still considerable work to be done to deliver on its ambition.

In Paris, the Least Developed Country (LDC) Group was a key player in delivering this agreement – pushing relentlessly for a legally binding and effective agreement with universal participation, inclusion of the 1.5 degree target, loss and damage and for the much-needed finance.

Indeed, they have been playing an important role in the process since the Durban Platform was agreed in 2011. There is a strong argument that it is the right time for a representative from the group to step into the executive secretary role.

The job is appointed by the UN Secretary General, and in the spirit of UN roles should reflect the international community it represents. Figueres was the first non-European to be appointed to the post (Yvo de Boer and Joke Waller Hunter were both Dutch, Michael Zammit Cutajar was Maltese).

Leadership and ambition

The LDCs have a clear interest in the climate process – and a strong motivation in pushing for more ambitious action. Poorer countries tend to be more exposed to the damaging impacts of climate change, despite having contributed relatively little to the atmospheric stocks of GHGs which are driving planetary warming.

This means that the LDCs have been able to speak with moral force and use this throughout the process to build support for their cause, demonstrating the climate diplomacy skills necessary to build bridges both within the broader G77 and the High Ambition Coalition.

More importantly, key individuals from within the LDC Group have shown their skills and abilities within the process, demonstrating their abilities to do the job.

Some names to consider

IIED senior fellow and long-term advisor to the climate process, Dr Saleemul Huq has already suggested two possible highly qualified candidates for the job in Pa Ousman Jarju from The Gambia and Youba Sokona from Mali.

Jarju is the Gambia's Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Water Resources, Parks and Wildlife, and Fisheries, and has considerable experience as the country's lead negotiator at international climate talks. He chaired the LDC Group from 2010-11 during the crucial negotiations to establish the Durban Platform, and in Paris co-facilitated the working group on Pre-2020 action at COP21, set up to help deliver the Paris Agreement.

He is also the LDC Group's only special climate envoy, and was involved in extensive diplomatic efforts in the lead up to Paris. He clearly understands the kind of effort that will be needed to deliver on Paris.

Sokono is a climate scientist, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author, and the former coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre. Both figures are highly respected within the LDC Group and within the African nations. The appointment of either would send a strong signal of Africa's growing importance in international affairs.

Moving forward

It is crucial time in the climate process. Already there are fears that the momentum built during the Paris negotiations is being lost.

While the scientific evidence increasingly demands more urgent action, leaders appear increasingly focused on domestic agendas, amidst economic and political concerns.

Figeures celebrates the announcement of the completion of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 (Photo: UNclimatechange, Creative Commons via Flickr)

The momentum of Paris must not be lost. The first step is for the Paris Agreement to be signed and ratified, with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urging governments to do this at a summit in New York in April. Ratification requires 55 countries, representing at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions to sign up. So far, only Fiji and Nauru have completed its national processes to ratify the Paris Agreement.

Early ratification will recognise the urgency for action, with countries then committed to delivering emission reductions, as outlined in the plans submitted to the UNFCCC last year.

There is of course nothing to stop countries from starting work on these plans already – and forward-thinking countries have already started to do so. But global action is needed – and it is needed now.

Andrew Norton (andrew.norton@iied.org) is director of IIED.

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