Photo: Christiana Figueres, outgoing Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. Credit: CarbonBrief - Photo: 2016

Costa Rica’s Figueres Checkmates Runners for UN Chief’s Post

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN) – The nomination of Christiana Figueres for the position of the United Nations Secretary-General one day after her term as Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ended on July 6, comes as a checkmate to five other female and six male candidates vying for the world’s top diplomatic post.

President Luis Guillermo Solís announced on July 7 that the Costa Rican government is nominating Christiana Figueres because “the United Nations, and the world, needs a Secretary-General who is a bridge builder, who can listen and consult, who can help resolve disputes, build agreements and anticipate problems”.

Making the announcement in Costa Rica’s National Theatre, which is known to present high quality performances, President Solís declared: “Christiana Figueres has proven to be that person . . . who can help the world’s most relevant multilateral body reclaim its standing among the people of the world – the people for whom it was created to protect and defend.”

The Costa Rican head of state highlighted Figueres’ widely acclaimed merits as the former head of one of the UN’s main agencies, the UNFCCC, adding that she was the individual responsible for steering governments – against all odds – to conclude the historical climate change agreement in Paris in December 2015.

This view is shared by The Guardian: “Christiana Figueres . . . won plaudits from around the world at the successful conclusion of the Paris talks . . . The summit saw all of the world’s nations agree for the first time to a binding commitment to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.”

Climate change in general and the need to ensure that the Paris Agreement can be fully implemented will – in addition to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – have to be a top priority of the successor of Ban Ki-moon who completes his second five-year term as Secretary-General on December 31, 2016. Ban has also made climate change and SDGs his top priority for the coming months.

Speaking in front of a banner for her campaign which read ‘Planting the seeds of hope today to harvest peace tomorrow’, outgoing UNFCCC Executive Secretary Figueres said: “Being nominated by my country as a candidate for UN Secretary General is a huge honour and a great responsibility. Costa Rica is a small country with a proud history and I thank the President and government for this nomination.”

Costa Rica has indeed a proud history: It is among the most stable, prosperous, and progressive nations in Latin America. It is the first of only a few sovereign nations without a standing army.

The Central American country has consistently performed favourably in the Human Development Index (HDI), ranking 69th in the world as of 2015, but among the highest of any Latin American nation. It has also been cited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as having attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels, with a better record on human development and inequality than the median of the region.

Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies, being the only country to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability. It was ranked 42nd in the world, and third in the Americas, in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index. Costa Rica officially plans to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021.

Like her 11 contenders, Figueres presented her Vision Statement, titled ‘Restoring Hope’, which sets out the priorities that will underpin her leadership of the United Nations when elected. It will be sent to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Figueres stresses the need for “a new model of collaborative diplomacy” based on the tenet that “the gain of some can no longer come at the expense of others”. In this context, she refers to the Paris Agreement that, she says, has taught us the fundamental importance of respecting national circumstances, needs and interests. “But it has also taught us that we can honour national priorities while finding ways of joining efforts for the common good, and focusing on our common humanity.”

Figueres recalls that at its birth last century, the UN’s strength rested on the three main pillars of its Charter: peace and security, human rights, and development. In this century, she says, “its strength must be built on the integration of these three pillars – such that success in one fosters success in the others”.

Ban’s likely successor’s core priorities are:

  1. Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and Strengthening our Crisis Response Capacity. “The Secretary-General must be tireless in encouraging states to see that, just as we need laws to regulate life within a state, we must give primacy to international law in relations between states.”
  2. Planting the seeds today to achieve a sustained peace tomorrow: “The arc of peace-building also extends over the transformational and inspiring goals for action that the international community agreed in 2015, as therein lie the seeds of long term peace and conflict avoidance.”
  3. Forging an Inclusive Model of Multilateralism: Collaborative Diplomacy – “The Paris Climate Agreement was not an accident; it was the result of a strategy and an attitude. It was the culmination of six years of patient rebuilding of a broken system that had lost all trust and confidence, into one that was capable of entering an upward spiraling of commitment and ambition.”
  4. Strengthening the UN: “Organizational change is hard and adjustments can be uncomfortable. It should always be led in a manner that is appreciative, respectful and committed to the continued well-being of all those who have sacrificed so much to support the UN and its mission.”

Figueres is of the view that there is “a transformational opportunity over the next few years to advance toward a better world”. Advance we must. Nothing else is acceptable. By standing still we will lose ground, and we cannot, she warns.

The United Nations cannot work miracles, but it is indispensable, she says. “The path ahead is untested and fraught with trials, some now predictable, many still unknown. But an approach that brings optimism instead of despair, and a perspective that looks for possibilities instead of resignation, can create a cycle of increasing confidence and hope. I believe that together we can precipitate this change on the basis of the fundamental conviction that collective human ingenuity and dedication can and should be harnessed for the common good.”

While the General Assembly and sections of the public are for the first time being involved in the selection process, a decision on who will be the next Secretary-General will depend on the consensus achieved among five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council: United States, Russia, China, France and Britain. A candidate favoured by them will be recommended to the General Assembly, which will elect Ban’s successor before the end of 2016.

With 12 candidatures aspiring to succeed Ban, former South Korean Foreign Minister, the P5 are faced with a tough task. While countries fielding candidates have opted out of the traditional geographical rotation that would ensure the choice of next UN Chief from Eastern Europe, the ambitious goal of selecting for the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations a woman for the world’s top post has not been abandoned.

Rightly so. Because there are six competent women to choose from: In addition to the outgoing climate change chief Figueres, the female candidates are: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UNDP; Natalia Gherman, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova; Susana Malcorra, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina who has also served as UN Under-Secretary-General and Chef du Cabinet of the UN Secretariat; and Vesna Pusic, former Foreign Minister of Croatia.

The male candidate who have to date joined the fray are: Antonio Guterres, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and ex-Prime Minister of Portugal; Vuk Jeremić, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and President of the UN General Assembly; and Dr Srgjan Kerim, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia, and UN General Assembly President.

The other three are: Miroslav Lajčák, former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Foreign Minister of Slovakia; Dr Igor Luksic, former Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister of Montenegro; and Dr Danilo Turk of of Slovenia, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Political Affairs and President of Slovenia. [IDN-InDepthNews – 8 July 2016]

Photo: Christiana Figueres, outgoing Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. Credit: CarbonBrief

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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