UNFCCC: Ibrahim Thiaw confirmed as interim UN climate chief

The UN confirmed this morning it has selected UN Convention to Combat Desertification chief Ibrahim Thiaw to temporarily head up the UN climate secretariat when Patricia Espinosa formally steps down from the role next month.

In a letter to parties signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this morning, Espinosa confirmed the Mauritanian diplomat is to take up the role of executive secretary at the UN body from 17 July until the selection process for her replacement is completed.

“I trust that you will lend your full support and cooperation to Mr. Thiaw and the secretariat during this transition and you may rest assured of the secretariat’s continued commitment to provide high quality support to you as we prepare for COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November,” Espinosa wrote.

Thiaw is a long-standing advocate of bolder climate action, having repeatedly called for sustainable land management to be leveraged to tackle climate change in his role as executive secretary of UNCCD. Prior to taking the helm of UNCCD, he was deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Espinosa is set to step down next month after six years at the helm of UNFCCC, leaving a vacancy as governments gear up for the critical COP27 climate talks that are due to take place Egypt this autumn.

COP26 president and UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma is reportedly in the running for the role, alongside a number of candidates from Africa and Asia, including Rwanda’s environment minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Nigeria’s minister of environment Sharon Ikeazor, Egypt’s environment minister Yasmine Fouad, and former finance minister of Indonesia Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

There have been five executive secretaries of the UNFCC to date, of which three have been European and two from the Americas. As such, candidates from Africa and Asia were widely expected to be among the frontrunners for the high profile role. However, reports earlier this month indicated that Sharma had been sounded out to see if he would be interested in applying in following his successful chairing of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow last year. Applications for the Bonn-based role close this Friday.

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