Positive Environment News

South African heads race for UN climate chief

Date: 07-May-10
Country: UK / NORWAY
Author: Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle

South Africa's minister of tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk is front-runner to replace Yvo de Boer as UN climate chief, sources familiar with the selection process told Reuters on Thursday.

The run-off is between developing country candidates, reflecting their rising status in stalled UN climate talks to agree a successor to the existing Kyoto Protocol. De Boer, of the Netherlands, steps down on July 1 after almost four years.

An interview panel had selected a final shortlist of van Schalkwyk and Costa Rica's Christiana Figueres, one source said, adding van Schalkwyk had the support of key countries. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would make the final decision.

A Western diplomat based in New York agreed those two were the favored candidates.

"The front runner is Marthinus," said a third source, also on condition of anonymity.

"The positive arguments are that he is a minister and so can talk to ministers, and has been a governor of a state so knows how to manage. You need a politician to deal with politicians."

Van Schalkwyk was premier of Western Cape Province from 2002 to 2004. Figueres has been a member of the Costa Rican climate negotiating team since 1995. Her father, Jose Figueres Ferrer, was president of Costa Rica three times.


UN climate talks ended in an impasse in Copenhagen in December, producing only a non-binding accord that reflected a rich-poor rift over shouldering responsibility for action.

Industrialized countries point to rapid growth in carbon emissions in emerging economies and want to share the burden of carbon cuts which was carried by rich countries under the 2008-2012 Kyoto Protocol, a treaty the United States never ratified.

China has leapfrogged the United States as the world's top carbon emitter, but remains far poorer in per capita income and is focused on creating jobs and generating affordable energy.

"It's an important juncture and I hope this appointment makes a difference," said Andrei Marcu, head of regulatory and policy affairs at oil trading firm Mercuria.

South Africa has proposed some of the most ambitious carbon curbs among developing countries, saying that with the right aid its emissions could decline from about 2035.

Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim praised van Schalkwyk. "He is a very strong candidate, as he was the South African minister of the environment (before taking his present post), but there are other strong candidates," he told Reuters.

"It's very likely that Secretary-General Ban will appoint someone from a developing nation. That would mean a move from Europe to the developing nations and I think that's very sound." De Boer announced in February he would step down, saying a new era of diplomacy was starting after the Copenhagen summit fell short of agreeing a new treaty.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York)

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