Christiana Figueres to step down from UN climate role in July

Madeleine Cuff
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Christiana Figueres to step down from UN climate role in July

After six years in the job, the UN's top climate official says she will decline requests to stay on in post after term is up in July

Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who steered governments to a historic climate deal last December, has announced she will step down from her position as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) in July this year.

In a letter to parties of the UN process published on February 12 and first reported by Climate Home, Figueres said she will not accept an extension of her appointment after it formally ends on July 6.

"It is with deep gratitude to all of you that I write to formally announce that I will serve out my term as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which finishes on July 6, 2016, and not accept an extension of my appointment," she wrote.

"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. I know that together you will again rise to the task."

Figueres, who has spent six years as chief of the UN climate process, has been widely praised by officials and observers for reviving the reputation of the climate negotiations following the widespread disappointment after the Copenhagen Summit in 2009.

She was seen as central to the success of the Paris Summit with observers praising her highly effective diplomacy and instigation of a new approach to the talks that saw countries break the long-running deadlock that had marred previous negotiations by commiting to voluntary national climate action plans.

According to the letter, the search for Figueres' replacement will begin immediately, with all countries invited to submit candidates for consideration. The post will be elevated from the position of Executive Secretary to that of Under Secretary General within the UN bureaucracy, in recognition of "the political significance of climate change".

The news means Figueres will not oversee the next climate summit, due to take place in Morocco in November. The meeting is considered crucial to hammering out the finer details of the Paris Agreement, including confirming funding streams for climate finance initiatives and finalising the process of reviews to nations' climate action plans.

However, she will be in post for the historic signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement in New York, which is slated for this April.

In a separate letter addressed to non-party stakeholders, Figueres urged the wider community to maintain its commitment to climate action in order to ensure the Paris Agreement is implemented.

"As you well know, the Paris Agreement is a historical achievement, built on years of increasing willingness to construct bridges of collaboration and solidarity across all boundaries," she wrote. "Much remains to be done, especially in the next five years, to ensure we turn good intentions into the reality we all want. I know you will continue to inject energy, passion and perseverance into this process. You can count on me to do the same."

The announcement comes just days after former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stepped down from his post as president of the UN climate talks, handing the task of overseeing the ratification of the Paris Agreement to his successor Segolene Royal.

Both Figueres and Fabius were awarded the Ewald von Kleist peace award last week in recognition of their part in securing climate treaty.

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC.

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