Sources Indicate U.N. to Pick Costa Rica’s Figueres as New Climate Chief

By and | May 17, 2010

Veteran Costa Rican climate diplomat Christiana Figueres is set to be appointed as the new United Nations climate chief, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The sources said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had chosen Figueres over former South African environment minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, who had long been viewed as the front-runner.

The sources said Ban’s decision would be presented to a high-level meeting of climate negotiators in Bonn on Monday. She would be the only formal candidate for the job to replace Yvo de Boer as head of the U.N. climate change secretariat.

Figueres will asked to help get U.N. talks back on track after the U.N. Copenhagen summit in December fell short of a treaty, merely agreeing a non-binding target of limiting global warming to below 2 Celsius [3.6°F] above pre-industrial times.

The next meeting is due in Cancun, Mexico, in late November and early December.

A senior Ban aide will officially consult the small group of officials at the Bonn meeting on Monday who are helping guide climate negotiations this year, one source said.

Sources said Ban will probably make a final announcement this week unless there are strong objections to Figueres. “The Secretary-General has basically made a decision and it’s just a courtesy to inform the Bureau,” one source said referring to the meeting.

“She’s well liked and a competent negotiator,” said the same source. “If they wanted a technical bureaucrat, she’s probably as good as you’ll get.”

Figueres has been a member of the Costa Rican climate negotiating team since 1995 and has held many senior posts in the U.N. climate process. Her father, Jose Figueres Ferrer, was president of Costa Rica three times.

“She’s respected and has an intimate understanding of the problems,” one source said.

Most analysts had expected that de Boer’s successor would be from a developing nation after de Boer, of the Netherlands, steps down on July 1 after almost four years. His predecessors were from Canada, the Netherlands and Malta.

Van Schalkwyk, who is now tourism minister, had been viewed as the favorite partly as his country has more clout as one of the main emerging nations in a group with China, India and Brazil.

But one source said that the small island developing states — among those most at risk from climate change — argued strongly for Figueres, saying they wanted someone from a smaller nation.

“She had the support of many in the developing nations,” one source said. “It was a surprising turn-around when many thought that Marthinus was headed to win.”

Costa Rica has one of the world’s most environmentally friendly policies including stress on eco-tourism and a long-term goal of becoming “carbon neutral”, under which industrial emissions would be soaked up by forests.

As a minister, the theory had been it would have been easier for him to stand up to other ministers at U.N. meetings. De Boer also often angered governments from the United States to Japan by urging them to do more.

(Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn in London; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Ed Lane)

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