Former Climate Chief Launches Bid for Top UN Job

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By Eric J. Lyman

July 7 — A day after ending her term as United Nations climate change chief, Christiana Figueres began her campaign July 7 to replace her former boss, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Figueres made the announcement that she would seek the UN's top job in her native Costa Rica, where she highlighted her experience as one of the architects of last year's Paris Agreement, the world's first global climate pact.

“The Paris Agreement can be an exception to the rule or the norm when it comes to multilateralism in the 21st century,” Figueres said. “I think it can and should be the norm, since it is the only way to address global challenges.”

Ban's term will end Dec. 31, although it is traditional to have a successor in place well ahead of the end of the outgoing secretary-general's term.

Figueres was formally nominated for the job by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, who praised Figueres. “The United Nations and the world needs a secretary-general who is a bridge builder who can help resolve disputes, and Christiana Figueres has proven she can be that person,” Solis said.

Figueres's candidacy comes as no surprise. Multiple UN officials and other key observers told Bloomberg BNA last month that Figueres would seek the job after stepping down as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Figueres joins a crowded field that includes UN Development Program head and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark; minister of foreign affairs for Argentina Susana Malcorra, who most recently served as Ban's chief of staff; and one-time Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, who also has served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Atypical Background

Figueres does not have the typical background for the job, which traditionally requires experience in security, development and peacekeeping. Additionally, of the dozen formally nominated candidates for the job, Figueres is the only one who has not served as a government minister or higher, though the UNFCCC job is informally considered to be a minister-level position.

Before taking over the UNFCCC in 2010, Figueres was a career diplomat and negotiator and part of the climate negotiation process since the 1990s.

She is no stranger to politics: Figueres comes from Costa Rica's most important political family. Her father, Jose Figueres Ferrer, was president of the country three times and her brother, Jose Figueres Olsen, was president once. Solis, the current president, was a former protege of Figueres Olsen.

Figueres's candidacy—regardless of whether she gets the job—is expected to raise the profile of climate change among UN priorities. When news of her interest in the job first surfaced last month, a senior UN official who has worked closely with Figueres said her presence in the race will likely mean “all the candidates would be asked for their views on climate change.”

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said thanks to the work of Ban, Figueres and others, climate change is no longer a niche topic in UN circles.

July 12 UN Debates

“No matter who takes the job, [climate change] is going to be seen as part of the portfolio,” Meyer said.

Other official candidates for the job are Danilo Turk, former president of Slovenia; Irina Bokova, UNESCO head and former Bulgarian minister of foreign affairs; Vesna Pusic, former Croatia foreign minister; Natalia Gherman, former Moldova foreign minister; Srgjan Kerim, former foreign minister of Macedonia; Igor Luksic, Montenegro minister of foreign affairs; Vuk Jeremic, former minister of foreign affairs for Serbia; and Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia's foreign minister.

The next step in the process is an informal series of debates at the UN General Assembly July 12, followed by a secret vote from the 15-member UN Security Council July 21 aimed at winnowing the field.

The General Assembly will vote on a short list in September, subject to approval from the five permanent members of the security council: China, France, Russia, the U.K, and the U.S.—any one of which can unilaterally veto a candidate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

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