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Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Steps Down

Yvo de Boer resigned his position as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Mr. De Boer, who has held the post since September 2006, announced his decision on 18 February 2010.

“Working with my colleagues at the UNFCCC Secretariat in support of the climate change negotiations has been a tremendous experience”, said Mr. de Boer who has led the organization since September 2006. “It was a difficult decision to make, 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”, he explained.

Some observers have said the decision was related to the letdown in Copenhagen last December. Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, noted that “Copenhagen took a personal and physical toll on him [de Boer].” Elsewhere, de Boer’s resignation has been perceived as less surprising and reflective of the frustrating UNFCCC process as well as of the failure in Copenhagen. Conversely, Janos Pasztor the top climate change adviser for the United Nations Secretary-General, disagrees with the notion that Mr. de Boer’s resignation was related to the failure of Copenhagen or the troublesome structure of the UNFCCC.

Mr. de Boer noted that his decision was linked to what he perceives the way forward on climate change. “I have always maintained that… the real solutions must come from business,” said de Boer,. “Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms... This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen.” Mr. de Boer will join the KPMG consultancy firm and plans to work with a number of universities on the topic of climate change and sustainability.

U.S. Senator John Kerry was among many who praised de Boer for his work. “Yvo De Boer has provided years of global leadership and sound, science-based solutions to the international effort to halt the devastating impacts of global climate change,” Kerry said. “He brought the world’s major emitters, including China and India, to the table.”

The resignation has also added fuel to a greater debate involving the effectiveness and suitability of the UNFCCC itself. Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, notes that the UNFCCC may be too big and ineffectual to produce binding agreements, and may thus be replaced by a smaller, G-20-like, institution. While Agus Purnomo, Indonesia’s special presidential assistant on climate change, said that the resignation "comes at the worst time in the climate change negotiations." Steve Howard, of the private sector coalition The Climate Group, sees an opportunity for a fresh start in the change of UNFCCC’s leadership.

Mr. de Boer will remain in his current position until 1st July and help negotiations move forward ahead of the Climate Change Conference in Mexico in November this year. His successor will be selected by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon who accepted the resignation with regret and said that Yvo de Boer “will be difficult to replace.”

Mr. Ban thanked de Boer for his “strong commitment and professional support” in climate negotiations and for guiding the UNFCCC Secretariat since taking up the post in September 2006.

“Mr. de Boer’s contribution during this crucial period encompassing the negotiations in Nairobi, Bali, Poznan and in Copenhagen will be remembered,” Mr. Ban said in a statement.

Other Comments:

“We have seen a situation where the politics of climate change are really, really difficult among a number of key actors, and nobody, not even Mr. de Boer, was able to cut through that.”
- Kim Carstensen, Director, Global Climate Initiative of the World Wildlife Fund.


“It is probably the right time to get a fresh face in. It has been a pretty gruelling two years from Bali to Copenhagen. A fresh face would respark the whole process.”
- Mark Kenber, Policy Director, The Climate Group











This article is available in Spanish.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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