Last updated: February 18, 2010 6:57 pm

UN climate change chief quits

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Troubled talks on a global climate changetreaty suffered a further setback on Thursday with the resignation of the United Nations official heading the process.

Yvo de Boer, who was charged with guiding the negotiations to a successful conclusion, abruptly announced he would leave in July after 3½ years, leaving no obvious successor.

Mr de Boer has been the linchpin of the negotiating process through the most intense period of climate talks since the failed Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997. Participants in the talks said the UN must work fast to replace him, with the next formal negotiating session scheduled for June.

The UN wants more meetings before the next crunch conference in December in Mexico, at which officials had hoped to sign a final treaty. Those hopes were fading on Thursday, however.

“We must quickly find a suitable successor who can oversee the negotiations and reform the [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to ensure it is up to the massive task of dealing with what are some of the most complex negotiations ever,” said Ed Miliband, the UK’s climate change secretary.

In December, at the Copenhagen summit, governments could not reach a full agreement that could be turned into a treaty. Since then, a sustained attack on the underpinnings of climate science has damaged the case for international action on greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr de Boer’s near-impossible task was to attempt to reconcile the divergent interests of rich and poor countries, to cajole reluctant world leaders into taking part and ultimately draw all of the world’s governments into a single global treaty.

Mr de Boer will join KPMG, the consultancy, as an adviser on environmental issues.

Since the summit, the science of climate change has come under sustained attack from climate change sceptics.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, must begin the search for a successor. Given that Mr de Boer and his two immediate predecessors were from developed nations, attention is likely to focus on candidates from the developing world. But experts said there were no obvious takers yet.

Mr de Boer said of his coming role in business: “Concerns over energy prices, energy security and climate change are driving a new agenda for sustainable economic growth. Sustainability is high on the agenda of investors, companies and governments alike. This demands new partnerships that foster strong economic growth, while respecting the need to protect the environment.

“Although it is the role of governments to provide the necessary policy frameworks, I have always maintained that business will deliver the necessary innovation and solutions, providing the right conditions are created.”

Ed Miliband, the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, said: “Yvo de Boer’s patient work helped produce the Copenhagen Accord which contains commitments [from the countries responsible for] 80 per cent of global emissions, something never previously achieved. We must quickly find a suitable successor, who can oversee the negotiations and reform the UNFCCC to ensure it is up to the massive task of dealing with what are some of the most complex negotiations ever.”

Green campaigners warned that Mr de Boer’s resignation should not be allowed to delay or derail the talks, which will culminate in a conference in Mexico this December, where governments are still hoping a formal treaty can be signed.

Asad Rehman, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: ”Yvo de Boer’s departure will echo the frustration felt by millions around the world at the failure in Copenhagen. But the UN is the only legitimate body that can forge effective and fair international action to tackle climate change. [The] resignation must not be seen as an opportunity to strike weak and dangerous climate deals outside of the UN process, as we saw in Copenhagen.”

Greenpeace International said: ”Yvo de Boer injected much-needed dynamism and straight-talking into the role of executive secretary to the UN Climate Convention. He has been a passionate and sometimes emotional advocate for a global deal to avert climate chaos, and has set the bar for what leading the UNFCCC is about. His successor will need to possess the same skills, commitment and cast-iron determination to ensure the concerns of vulnerable nations are not ridden over by rich polluting countries.”

Before taking on his UN role, Mr de Boer was involved in European Union environmental policy as deputy director general of the Dutch environment ministry. He also served as vice-chair of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and acted as an adviser to the government of China and the World Bank.

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