UN Climate Chief Quits Post

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UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 18, 2010 (Tierramérica) - Countries have largely failed to endorse the Copenhagen Climate accord by the Jan. 31 deadline. On Thursday, the key official in the United Nations climate treaty process announced his resignation.

There is no effective global climate treaty and the well-respected Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who worked tirelessly for four years to facilitate an agreement, has had enough.

"Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms, but the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming," de Boer said in a statement.

"I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business," he said.

De Boer will be joining the consultancy group KPMG as Global Adviser on Climate and Sustainability, as well as working with a number of universities.

The much-hyped "seal-the-deal" Copenhagen climate talks ended last December with the U.S., India, South Africa, China and Brazil hatching a backroom agreement called the Copenhagen Accord.

The three-page document was not legally binding and had no long-term global targets for emissions cuts. Countries were asked to support the accord by signing on by Jan 31. Less than 60 out of the 190 plus countries signed by the deadline.

Many developing countries and NGOs charged that the accord threatened the legitimate multilateral process that had taken many years to develop.

"The accord was not the right way to go. It was like the World Trade Organisation, where a few big countries make all the crucial decisions," said Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy campaigner with the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest NGO.

"Perhaps Mr. De Boer's departure will open up some space to dump the accord and get the talks back on track," Harden-Donahue told IPS.

Although the Copenhagen summit brought 120 world leaders together, the failure to reach a binding agreement was thought to be a deeply disappointing outcome for De Boer. However, his decision to resign had been rumoured prior to Copenhagen.

"The resignation is not a complete surprise, especially given the pressure-cooker nature of the job over the past four years," said David Martin, climate and energy coordinator at Greenpeace Canada.

"De Boer was widely liked, respected and fair in his dealings. He'll be hard to replace," Martin said in an interview.

"Yvo de Boer's resignation, presumably in frustration at the failure at Copenhagen, is a great loss to the international policy-making process through the U.N.," agreed Saleemul Huq, head of the climate change programme at the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

"Far from being a low-key bureaucrat, which his successor is likely to be, he was prepared to be bold and 'speak truth to power'," Huq said in an email interview.

The failure of the Copenhagen climate negotiations was not because of lack of leadership from De Boer but a lack of good faith positions on the part of the highest emitting countries, said Rebecca Tarbotton, programme director at the Rainforest Action Network, a U.S.-based environmental NGO.

"Regardless of who the new head of the UNFCCC is, global climate negotiations will not succeed until the most polluting countries, particularly the U.S., come to the table with bold targets, fair financing, and a willingness to accept a binding treaty to prevent a global climate catastrophe," Tarbotton said via email.

De Boer is careful to insist he will remain in his current position until Jul 1 and help negotiations move forward ahead of the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

"Countries responsible for 80 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions have submitted national plans and targets to address the climate change," he said. "This underlines their commitment to meet the challenge of climate change and work towards an agreed outcome in Cancun."

In fact, those reduction commitments are far below what is required to keep global warming at 2.0 degrees C, a target developed nations have largely agreed on. African and small island states, among others, say their very survival depends on keeping the warming kept below 1.5 C.

However, analysis by the climate science Ecofys network, among others, calculate those reduction commitments put the world on a catastrophic global temperature rise of over 3.0 degrees C.

*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

IPS News
Stephen Leahy
Thursday, February 18, 2010

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