Will Gambia’s environment minister be the next UN climate chief?

Pa Ousman Jarju, environment minister

Pa Ousman Jarju-environment minister

Pa Ousman Jarju, the environment minister of The Gambia, has been named in a Guardian Environment Network report as one of the top 10 potential candidates that could replace Christiana Figueres, United Nations climate chief.

The UN is vetting candidates with ‘high professional standing and an intimate knowledge of the issues’ to replace Christiana Figueres when she leaves in July.

The Gambia’s climate savvy minister lives on the frontline of climate change, and a powerful advocate for investment in adaptation and loss and damage.

Jarju who represented The Gambia at the recent UN climate talks held in Paris last year, and a one-time head of the Least Developed Countries group, was chosen to be one of Fabius’ advisors in the closing stages of Paris.

On 23 January 2016, Minister Jarju was also elected to sit on the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Governing Board.

This followed a general agreement on 23 January 2016 during the second day of the conference of the parties of the ARC agency, gathered recently in Addis Ababa for their fourth annual meeting.

The Gambia is one of the countries in the sub-region seriously prone to the effects of climate change and climate variability.

Erratic and insufficient rainfall pattern coupled with floods has severely affected the country’s agricultural output in recent times despite its government’s increased investment in the sector.

Last year, rampaging flood resulting from heavy rains and rising water level from River Gambia has destroyed at least 2,200 hectares of rice farms valued at 9.9 million dalasis in Jahally Pacharr in the Central River Region.

The director of Agriculture in the region has also said that flood destroyed about 4000 hectares of rain-fed rice farm in the Kudang, also in CRR area, during the same period.

Jarju is a strong climate advocate and The Gambia was one of the first countries to have submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of the Paris climate talks promising emission cuts across all sectors.

The Gambian officials said despite the country’s lower emission rate of 0.01%, it stands ready to fulfill its commitments towards tackling climate change while urging powerful countries to equally fulfill their part of the bargain.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Fatih Birol, France’s Laurence Tubiana and Brazil’s Izabella Teixeira are all potential candidates to replace Christiana Figueres at the head of the UN climate body.

After six years in the hot-seat, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres is off, with a global pact at the top of her CV.

The hunt is on for her replacement, the UN job portal is open, the salary in the region of $200,000 (£143,000).

Applicants need to demonstrate vision, communication skills, experience of working with senior leaders and be a patient sort.

With less than five years until a new global pact comes into force, it’s a critical time for whoever takes over, with the prospect of little glory but plenty of graft.

On the downside you have to live in Bonn. On the upside it requires a lot of travel so you won’t be there much.

The UN climate body has only had four heads: one from Malta, two from the Netherlands and the incumbent from Costa Rica. History favours candidates from small countries, not permanent members of the UN security council.

Climate Home has canvassed opinion from the international climate change community – here’s a rundown of the top 10 names being discussed.

Patricia Espinosa (Mexico)

Mexico’s ambassador to Germany is highly regarded in climate circles, having taken over the presidency of the UN talks in 2010 with the Copenhagen hangover still raging. Careful diplomacy and a tight alliance with Figueres saw the Cancun talks get back on track after the Danish disaster.

Fatih Birol (Turkey)

If the UN wants to emphasise its commitment to implementation between now and 2020, the executive director of the International Energy Agency could be a decent bet. The Turkish economist is on the UN’s Sustainable Energy 4 All panel and is a respected media performer.

Manuel Pulgar Vidal (Peru)

Lima’s environment chief has an election coming up, potentially freeing him up for other pursuits. Credited with ensuring UN talks were more open and transparent in 2014, MPV was asked to assist COP21 president Laurent Fabius in Paris as a bridge with civil society groups.

Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko (South Africa)

Diseko brought a touch of drama and glamour to UN talks through 2015, fiercely defending the 134-strong Group of 77 she was charged with leading. She’s an old hand at the UN and one of the key advisors to the South African government during the 2011 COP17 summit in Durban.

Dessima Williams (Grenada)

Former chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Grenada ambassador to the UN and Oxfam climate advisor, Williams is a UN talks veteran. She’s another potential candidate who lives on the climate frontline, often writing about the impact of rising sea levels on her home.

André Corrêa do Lago (Brazil)

An architecture critic, author, economist and diplomat, there are apparently few subjects Corrêa do Lago cannot discuss with authority. Brazil’s smooth and media-friendly ambassador to Japan was – until 2012 – its head of climate negotiations, and chief negotiator at the Rio+20 talks.

Teresa Ribera (Spain)

Secretary of state for climate change between 2008-2011, Ribera now runs the Paris-based IDDRI thinktank, which played a key behind-the-scenes role helping the French government at COP21. An established name on the circuit, Ribera has also led IDDRI’s Latin American outreach.

Laurence Tubiana (France)

If Laurent Fabius was the face of the UN climate talks, Tubiana was the brains trust behind the project, advising the COP president on the technical aspects of a climate deal. A warm personality who made many new friends in the past year, it’s doubtful she’d want to swap Paris for Bonn.

Izabella Teixeira (Brazil)

When Paris looked in trouble, France turned to Teixeira to resolve the developed v developing divide at UN talks. A robust negotiator and career civil servant who rarely smiles in public, she was the face of the Rio+20 talks and sits on the UN high level panel for post-2015 development.



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