On Friday, February 19, Christiana Figueres announced that she will step down as head of the Bonn-based UN Climate Change Secretariat. The position is a strategic one for climate governance and, by extension, environmental sustainability, economic vitality, and political inclusion. In the wake of Ms. Figueres’ departure, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will seek to appoint a leader who can bring together the wherewithal and innovation necessary to move toward a climate-stable future, and he should consider appointing a mayor or former mayor to lead the way.
Appointing a mayor to head the secretariat would be a change of strategies for the United Nations, which has previously drawn upon leaders with experience negotiating international accords. Before joining the secretariat, Figueres led the Costa Rican negotiating team and amassed considerable experience with the various offices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. After her appointment to the position in 2010, Figueres led UN efforts to recover from the seemingly intractable North-South tensions that had previously stalled multilateral negotiations. After six years of Figueres’ leadership, the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), held in Paris late last year, came to a potentially path-breaking agreement based in part upon unprecedented collaboration between wealthy and poor nations and an emphasis on bringing to the negotiating table the good work already underway within the borders of each country.
Sustaining the momentum generated in Paris may require a shift in emphasis—a move from negotiation to implementation—and a new kind of leadership. It is true that the Paris meetings ended on perhaps the highest note since COP3, which saw the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, but that parallel should give us pause. The Kyoto Protocol has been nothing short of a political and technical disaster in its failure either to bring nations together or to move the world toward a climate-stable future. So while negotiators and pundits alike may be relatively sanguine about the Paris agreement, everyone remains rightfully wary of premature celebration. The devil will be in the details. As Figueres wrote in the letter announcing her resignation, “We now move into a phase of urgent implementation. The journey that lies ahead will require continued determination, ingenuity and, above all, our collective sense of humanity and purpose.” Capitalizing on the momentum of the Paris agreement will require a renewed commitment to action. The next executive secretary—a post that is being elevated to the level of under secretary general—should be as familiar with implementation as they are with negotiation.
The UN should not overlook mayors, former mayors, and the heads of transnational municipal networks for climate governance—networks like the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme, or C40—in its efforts to identify the next head of the Climate Change Secretariat. Over the past twenty years, as nation-states have repeatedly failed in negotiating a climate accord and lagged in their implementation of climate-stabilizing policies, cities have taken a leading role in climate governance. Through land-use regulations, transportation policies, energy governance, and building codes, cities have demonstrated both the commitments and capabilities necessary to make a difference. Berlin, for example, plans to be climate neutral by 2050 and already reduced emissions by 27 percent between 1990 and 2010. By building transnational municipal networks, cities have been effective at reshaping practices and philosophies beyond their borders and at higher scales of governance. Indeed, without the good work of cities over the past 20 years, the COP21 negotiators might have fallen short, unable to highlight adequate progress made within their boundaries. Looking forward, without counting on cities, nation states may not be able to achieve what they’ve promised in Paris.
Cities, with their vulnerability to and responsibility for climate change, with their sensitivity to needs for both mitigation and adaptation, have become the source of wherewithal and innovation necessary to address global warming. Maybe they should also be the source for our next head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.
This has not been a good year for Western democracy. How did we get here? This week’s reads from Council President Ivo Daalder seek to offer some preliminary answers—shedding light on the difficult question of what is driving today’s illiberal trends around the world.
With the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of American attitudes on foreign policy in hand, Vice President of Studies Brian Hanson sat down with Council polling experts Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura before Sunday’s presidential debate to find out how American public opinion compares with what the candidates are saying in the latest episode of our new Deep Dish podcast.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is engaging the public and thought leaders in dialogue critical to the 2016 elections. In part one of our “Election 2016: America in the World” video series, find out what global issues are top of mind for the public with one month left to go.
Salam Al-Marayati, president and cofounder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, spoke at the Council on September 23. There, we sat down one-on-one with him to inquire what he thought was the biggest foreign policy or global issue facing the next president. Find out what he said.
The University of Oxford's Paul Collier discussed the complex issue of global migration and the refugee crisis with a Council audience earlier this week. We sat down one-on-one with him to inquire what question he hoped the audience would ask. Find out what he said.
In an article published in the journal Globalizations, senior fellow on global cities Noah Toly characterizes the Brexit vote as linked to larger dynamics of income inequality, political disenfranchisement, and social exclusion, which threaten to destabilize a liberal world order premised on integration and openness.
The highly-anticipated debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took place on Monday. This week’s reads provides some different perspectives on some of the topics that were discussed—and some that should have been discussed—during the debate.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan joined a Council audience on September 15 to discuss the breakdown of social integration. After the event, we asked him: "If you could challenge the traditional thinking on one global issue, what would it be?" See his response.
There is no shortage of problems to address as United Nations leaders gather this week in New York. This week’s reads offer a snapshot of some of the issues and trends that are driving the discussions.
The former chancellor of the exchequer of the United Kingdom offers an insider’s insight on the future of transatlantic cooperation in the Brexit aftermath as the United Kingdom and the European Union move closer to divorce.
As the UN and President Obama host meetings this week in New York focused on supporting migrants and refugees, they should take cues from the city-level work being done in places like Chicago.
A Deep Dish discussion following Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard’s speech at the Council this week – is monetary policy now political?
After a short summer break, "This Week's Reads" is back with a round-up some of the summer's most interesting and insightful reads on the dividing lines in the US election, the future for Xi's China, and fractured lands in the Middle East.
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria joined a Council audience on September 8 to discuss America's international leadership. Before the event, we asked him what question he wished the audience would ask.
As a source of both social and economic disruption, and as a platform of the elevation of popular grievances, the role of technology in fueling the new populism cannot be discounted.