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UN climate chief resigns

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), steps down, effective July 1.

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff / February 18, 2010

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has resigned, effective July 1.

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The head of the UN body tasked with hammering out an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and therefore curb their effect on Earth’s climate, is stepping down.

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Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since September 2006, announced his resignation Thursday. It will become effective July 1.

“It was a difficult decision to make,” he said in a statement. “But I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge, working on climate and sustainability with the private sector and academia.” Mr. De Boer will join KPMG, a consultancy group, as global advisor on climate and sustainability.

De Boer’s resignation wasn’t a surprise to many familiar with the UNFCCC process, and especially those who attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) this past December.

For many agitating for an international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, the COP15 meeting fell far short. “Copenhagen took a personal and physical toll on him,” says Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington.

Experts in international climate policy say that the leaking of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit — dubbed ClimateGate — and criticism of some of the science included in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment had no bearing on De Boer’s resignation.

The IPCC deals with the science of human-caused climate change which, despite recent criticism, is still considered by the vast majority of scientists to be convincing and robust. The UNFCCC, on the other hand, is — or is supposed to be — a political agreement between nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of all.

Many observers say that De Boer is a hard-working, dedicated, and competent bureaucrat thrust into a vexing situation.

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