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Reports: Alok Sharma in running for UN Climate Chief post

Written by pgex7

COP26 President Alok Sharma could replace Patricia Espinosa as the UN’s top climate change official, after reports emerged that the former Business Secretary had been approached to sound out his interest in applying for the high profile role.

The Guardian reported yesterday that Sharma is understood to have been approached about whether he would be interested in picking up the reins from Espinosa when she steps down at the end of her second three year term later this year. The COP26 President is said to be willing to take on the role.

A formal applications for the job, which is based at the UN climate secretariat’s headquarters in Bonn, Germany, would need to be made by the deadline of June 24th.

However, Sharma’s ascendancy to the post is far from guaranteed. Of the five UNFCCC executive secretaries to date three have been from Europe and two from Latin America. As such, it had been widely expected that the next appointment would come from a developing economy in Africa or Asia. The online application form also notes that submissions from women would be especially welcome.

A number of high profile candidates have been mooted including Selwin Hart of Barbados, the special adviser to UN secretary-general, António Guterres; Rwanda’s Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya; Egypt’s Yasmine Fouad; and Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia.

However, were he to apply Sharma would be regarded as a strong candidate. His stint as COP26 President was extended by over a year due to the pandemic induced delay to the Glasgow Summit and during that time he built close relationships with Ministers and climate diplomats around the world. He also won plaudits for his calm management of the high stakes summits, working closely with developing country delegations to ensure they were involved in a negotiating process that could otherwise be dominated by the large industrialized and emerging emerging.

The final Glasgow Climate Pact was widely regarded as a considerable achievement, with Sharma playing a key role in getting the agreement over the line following 11th hour opposition to parts of the text from India and China. In the dramatic final moments of COP26, Sharma negotiated with the Indian delegation directly in Hindi to finalise the text, before he tearfully closed the Summit with an apology to those countries who had backed the previous draft of the text.

As such, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told the Guardian that Sharma’s candidacy could benefit from his direct experience of the negotiations over the past two years.

“We are undoubtedly very delayed in our response to climate,” she told the paper. “Science has been clear that the next three years are going to be critical. It would be preferable for the next executive secretary of the UNFCCC to not have to climb a steep learning curve. Deep knowledge of the process and an established trusted relationship with the players would be an advantage.”

The speculation comes as Ministers and diplomats gather in Bonn this week for the UN’s annual climate conference, which is designed to lay the groundwork for the main COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt in November.

The first two days of the meeting has seen the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) and group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) reiterate calls for governments to accelerate proposed reforms to global carbon offset markets and rapidly advance talks on plans for a new loss and damage financing facility.

Specifically, the groups want to see a share of revenues generated through the sale of carbon credits earmarked for climate adaptation projects.

“The voluntary carbon market is a significant and growing source of climate finance,” said Ambassador Conrod Hunte, chair of AOSIS. “We need to see the standards the world’s governments set for international carbon markets in Glasgow become widely and consistently applied, including in the voluntary carbon market. For those of us representing the world’s most vulnerable populations, the increased mitigation ambition and funding for adaptation this will generate is absolutely vital.”

Hunte also reiterated the view of many developing crops that this year’s COP27 Climate Summit should finalise proposals for a new financing mechanism to help countries cope with the loss and damages from resulting climate impacts. “AOSIS firmly believes that this year’s Glasgow Dialogue should lead to the conclusion that a new Loss and Damage Finance Facility is necessary and will be adopted at this year’s COP, so that the future Glasgow Dialogues to 2024 can operationalise the Facility,” he said.

However, the question of loss and damage is set to once again be one of the main dividing lines at COP27, with many industrialized nations fiercely opposed to proposals that they fear could be characterised as an of liability for future impact climate admissions.

Speaking at the opening of her last Bonn conference as UNFCCC executive director, Espinosa urged countries to continue to negotiate in the constructive manner that has delivered considerable progress since the signing of the Paris Agreement.

“Look at what we’ve accomplished in the last six years,” she said. “Look at what we’ve accomplished in the last 30. While we are still very much behind the climate curve, the world is in a better position because of the UNFCCC, because of the Kyoto Protocol, because of the Paris Agreement. Because of collaboration. Because of multilateralism. Because of you. But we can do better, we must.”

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