Both the UN Environment Programme and the UN Climate Change Convention are getting new leaders. UNEP will be led by a former environment minister of Norway and UNFCCC by Mexico’s current Ambassador to Germany.
Erik Solheim has been nominated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the new head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Solheim will be starting his new job in Nairobi “maybe in August,” he told DW, “assuming the UN General Assembly confirms me.”
“At this point I’m nominated by the Secretary-General, but there’s still a confirmation process,” said Solheim.
Since 2012, Solheim has been based in Paris as chairman of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee. From 2005 until 2012, he was Norway’s Minister of International Development, and concurrently also Minister of Environment from 2007 to 2012.
Also this week, Christiana Figueres, current executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), announced on Twitter that Patricia Espinosa Cantellano had been nominated as her successor,.
Espinosa Cantellano is a veteran Mexican diplomat currently serving her state as Ambassador to Germany, a country to which she has been connected since childhood. She was a student at the German school “Alexander von Humboldt” in Mexico City, and, as a teen, spent a year at a high school in Ahrensburg in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Solheim: “Patron of Nature”
Solheim, 61, is not new to the UNEP; he is currently serving as its special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster. He has been honored a number of times for his work as a protector of the environment.
UNEP gave him its “Champion of the Earth” award in 2009. In the same year, “Time Magazine” named him “Hero of the Environment,” and in 2012, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) declared him a “Patron of Nature,” one of an elite group of eleven high-profile individuals that help IUCN raise its global profile. Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, and Prince Albert of Monaco also hold the title.
Asked about his new role, Solheim said: “The challenges of environment are enormous – we need to protect the world oceans, the rainforest, we need a huge technology transfer to protect the climate. They’re huge challenges.”
The number one thing is to get the policies right in each country – and the number two thing is to redirect private investment, added Solheim.
“We need a much more firm dialogue with business. It’s business investment which must be the driving force of the green shift of the economy,” he said. “Governments need to regulate markets and set the rules, but the main bulk of the money needs to come from the private sector,” if the green transformation of economies is to succeed.
At the same time, there is a strong case for stepping up on aid, for example to transfer low-carbon technologies to developing countries, Solheim said: “If political forces are unwilling to make the investment to resolve environmental issues, then in future the pressure from environmental refugees from developing countries will be much bigger as climate change makes substantial areas of the planet effectively uninhabitable.”
“It’s just a matter of political will. If leaders think it’s important enough, almost limitless amounts can be made available. Just look at what happens in the context of wars,” he added.
During, his time as Norway’s environment minister, Solheim initiated the “Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative” (NICFI). NICFI pays money to Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and other countries for concrete steps toward the conservation and sustainable use of rainforests. The initiative’s success has been limited, however, with massive deforestation continuing in the tropics, especially in Indonesia.
In January 2016, the Norwegian government decided to continue NICFI, which has a budget of up to $500 million per annum, until 2030.
Solheim also introduced Norway’s Nature Diversity Act, which created eight new national parks in Norway and also protected the forests surrounding Oslo, Norway’s capital.
As head of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, a group whose mission is to coordinate the activities of wealthy nations in contributing aid to the poorest developing countries, Solheim has campaigned for ending extreme poverty.
“The world is awash with cash, it is just a matter of getting the money to the right places, to sustainable development and to the very poor,” he told DW a few months ago. The aim of ending poverty could be achieved by 2030, Solheim said – in China in particular, but to a large extent also in India.
Espinosa: Veteran diplomat
A few years ago, when she was Mexico’s foreign affairs minister, Espinosa Cantellano, now 57, was widely praised for her performance as coordinator of intergovernmental negotiations at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún.
At Cancún, negotiators committed to developing a successor agreement to the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocols by 2015, specifying individual nations’ greenhouse gas reduction commitments – a goal achieved in Paris in December last year.
Cancún was an important milestone in global climate protection negotiations. The conference’s success, attributed in part to Espinosa’s deft negotiating skills, was a welcome contrast to the previous year’s round of UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009, which had failed to generate a useful outcome.
Espinosa has been Mexico’s Ambassador to Germany since 2013. She had previously held a post at the same embassy from 2001 to 2002. From 2002 to 2006, she was Mexico’s Ambassador to Austria.
From 2006 to 2012, during the presidency of Felipe Calderón, she became Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. She made special efforts during her tenure to improve and diversify relations with the USA beyond the issues of security and immigration. She also rebuilt relations with Cuba and Venezuela and helped develop closer economic ties between Mexico and Germany.