Choosing the next UN climate change chief

Adil Najam April 22, 2010

The United Nations is seeking a new climate chief to head the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Pakistan has made an excellent choice by nominating a noted environmentalist, Dr Tariq Banuri, as its candidate. The United Nations Secretary General has the responsibility to find someone who can help put global climate negotiations that are now in utter disarray back on tracks.

He also has the opportunity to give real direction to the ongoing debate on improved global environmental governance, which has been floundering and rudderless. This is not an easy job, and the process of finding the right person is not made any easier by the petty politics of pride that invariably accompany high-level UN appointments.

Six well-respected climate leaders are now in the race: Dr Tariq Banuri (Pakistan), Christiana Figueres (Costa Rica), Janos Pasztor (Hungary), Marthins van Schalkwyk (South Africa), Vijai Sharma (India) and Elizabeth Thompson (Barbados). Not that he has asked for advice, but since his own climate change advisor (Mr Pasztor) is also running for the job, let us offer the Secretary-General a few suggestions on criteria that he should be using as he makes up his mind. First, choose a development person.

This is not just about selecting someone from a developing country (if it were that simple, any except one of the official candidates would do). This is about appointing someone who has a demonstrated commitment and passion for linking climate and development. This is not about ‘delivering’ developing country votes to any future climate agreement.

This is about being able to shape a process that can deliver a climate agreement that truly incorporates the environmental as well as development interests of nations. The inability to bridge this environment-development divide was a major cause of the breakdown of the Copenhagen talks.

The UNFCCC needs someone at its helm who can bring together the interests of developing and industrialised countries and who commands genuine respect in the environmental and development communities. Second, find a thought-leader. The role of treaty secretariats is to design and manage the process of negotiations and not to influence its outcomes.

The secretariat leaders who are seen to be proxies for any of the major parties in the negotiations can end up hurting their own credibility and the negotiation process. What the UNFCCC secretariat needs today is not just political skills, but thought-leadership. The issue of climate change is itself transforming.

New issues, new actors and new approaches are becoming important. The negotiation process is complex enough as it is, but the scientific complexity makes it that much more difficult. The ability to not just understand but have a command of these complexities can make all the difference.Finally, be bold. Normally such appointments are based on a combination of regional and political expediency and most likely end up with an uninspiring but acceptable choice.

But these are not ‘normal’ times and we need a bold approach. The Secretary-General should be looking beyond the obvious. To be fair, all the official candidates are competent and well-regarded and will do a decent job of managing the secretariat.

But in choosing someone like Dr Banuri there is an opportunity to send a real signal about the centrality of sustainable development to climate change as well as on global environmental governance. It would be a pity if this opportunity is missed.


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Furhan Hussain | 11 years ago | Reply Most of climate leader are pseudoscientist. If they are real scientist, They must solve the climate change. We do not need talk about the climate change, we need remedy only. Kon Joo Lee, I agree with what you say above, however we must realize that there are a hundred remedies which are out there, sure to work, provided the capitalist world starts applying them in their daily activities. But are they doing so, no. This is where influential people step in with their ability to talk and affect mindsets. Leaders are important because no matter how intelligent a group of people may be, they require direction. A remedy locked away in a glass bottle is as good as non existent. An idea or cause needs to be sold to its potential practitioners.
Kon Joo Lee | 11 years ago | Reply Most of climate leader are pseudoscientist. If they are real scientist, They must solve the climate change. We do not need talk about the climate change, we need remedy only. Most of the people believe climate change are very complex, and no single technology or strategy that will solve the problem of climate change. But It is a misunderstand. Current environmental technology is wrong and bad. The basic principle are wrong. If we change the wrong method, We can solve climate change, water pollution, energy etc. Current manure, humic acid(water pollutant, air pollutant, soil pollutants) + O2 (with electric energy) + bacteria= 1. GHG emitted(CO2, CH4, votalic organic matter, NO3 NH3, H2 2. sludge may digest with CH4 and CO2 3. remaing pollutant may water pollution source 4. emitted GHG may be comeback with rain It make environmental crisis only My new method manure, humic acid(water pollutant, air pollutant, soil pollutants) + CO2(GHG) + algae+catalyst+ sun energy= clean air+clean water + biomass Waste water treatment is an ongoing process driven by necessity. However, current treatment process requires significant energy use accounting for approximately three percent of all electricity usage in the US. Many practical design and operating decisions on waste water treatment plants can have significant impacts on the overall environmental performance, in particular the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main factor in this regard is the use of aerobic or anaerobic treatment technology. Current waste water treatment adapt the mineralization. But mineralization are wrong concept. Few organic substance becomes impregnated by inorganic substances. Most of phenol compounds, flavonoid, carotenoids are not mineralization. The low molecular compounds combined with the composted end products. So current waste water treatment method are incompatible. It also creates sludge (biosolids) and greenhouse gas emissions (VOC, CH4, CO2, NOX, etc.). The biosolids are reused as compost and fertilizers creating more greenhouse gases. These gases emitted in atmosphere returns to land and water stream in rainfall. Some pollutants that are not emitted remain in water even after treatment. This small amount of untreated pollutants is delivered straight to our home through tap water. So, the current process does not completely eliminate pollutants, and it creates dangerous greenhouse gas emissions that drives global warming. Global warming is one of the most deteriorating factors to the earth, and it poses threat to livelihood of human being in the future. The end products of compost are composed of humus, humic acid and fulvic acid. The current activated sludge process is unable to degrade these end products. These are emitted to air using aeration process that requires significant energy use. So, there is still a need to change the current process to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the global warming trend. There is one way. This new approach provides the solution by cultivating algae and diatom. These plants absorb all the organic matters and minerals (NO3, NH4, PO4, SO4, etc.) during photosynthesis. Significant amounts of CO2 is consumed, removing them from the air. Not only does this process removes CO2 from air, it does not emit any greenhouse gases. So, using natural sunlight, this method provides clean air and clean water. Growth of algae is considered the most efficient method of converting solar energy into organic matter. The biomass produced can be used directly as a solid fuel, or the oil extracted and refined into liquid oil or gasoline. The growth of the algae depends upon the removal of carbon from its environment. By applying this method to waste water treatment for human, animal and industrial wastes, significant amount of greenhouse gases will stop emit into air and removed from it. Therefore, it will remove more than what is and has already emitted in the air and reverse the global warming. A new research that applies this method to auto gas emissisions is currently undergoing. The potential to remove greenhouse gases from the air is unlimited. Please refer to our US Patents for more information:United States Patent 7297273
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