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.
The conventional wisdom is that Americans prefer to stay out of world affairs. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.
Both the United States and Germany are seeing evolving economies in their respective “rust belts,” formerly robust engines of the industrial era. Both are developing strategies to address these challenges but, unlike President Trump's approach, Germany is focused on accelerating change so the region will thrive in the future.
Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil's presidency with a far-right populism that drew comparisons to President Donald Trump.
It has been a month since journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But answers about his murder have not been forthcoming.
Will ties stay strong between Washington and Riyadh? Find out what Council President Ivo Daalder thinks in the latest #AskIvo.
With midterm elections fast-approaching, professor and author Francis Fukuyama answers questions on the rise in identity politics, its effects on democracy, and how countries can build inclusive identities.
Britain is slated to exit the European Union in March 2019. No one yet knows whether a deal will be reached or what happens if negotiations fail.
The burgeoning US-China trade war has dominated headlines. But the larger story of China’s economy is just as intriguing—and is the subject of this week's Deep Dish podcast.
Since its creation, the Women, Peace, and Sercurity agenda has driven the UN to be increasingly concerned with women’s empowerment as well as inclusive policymaking and implementation. Grasping the agenda’s scope can shed light on ways that different stakeholders can work to advance the agenda.
If you attended the unveiling of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s new On To 2050 plan earlier this month, you might think it an audacious effort to solve the region’s extraordinary problems in transformational fashion. The plan itself tells a more modest story.
America is abdicating its global leadership role, as Ivo Daalder and James M. Lindsay explain in a new book out this week.
This often overlooked but important geopolitical trio, Iran, Russia, and China, is the subject of a new book by this week's Deep Dish podcast guests.
Two distinguished public opinion surveys reveal how American foreign policy is perceived at home and abroad.
In this episode, Time's Up leader and former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, Tina Tchen, shares her favorite thing about working with the former First Lady, the challenges of building Time's Up, and advice for young women starting their careers.
The question is, how should America’s friends and allies respond to a president motivated by the logic of competition and domination rather than the logic of cooperation and coordination?