An Open Letter to Ban Ki Moon on Climate Change

An open letter to Ban Ki Moon in support of an extraordinary friend

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

I am sure that in your position, the volume of unsolicited outreach you receive must be truly breathtaking. I will not add to your never ending inbox, but rather will simply post this note on a friendly blog, with the hope that some of the messages within find their way to you via the osmosis of modern communication.

The climate crisis is no longer confined to the geophysical state of our planet – it has now metastasized into an even more virulent form of crisis involving our collective political and sociological ability to manage this complex issue. The UN has done tremendous work in defining the climate issue for more than 20 years and the accomplishments it has achieved are inspiring. However, there is little doubt that the Copenhagen conference broadly underperformed against the needs we face today.

Copenhagen’s underperformance is having an insidious effect on perceptions of UN effectiveness among even many supporters. It is increasingly considered conventional wisdom that the UNFCCC’s day has passed – that the climate issue must now center on a series of bilateral or regional negotiations and perhaps be centered in more focused organizations like the WTO.

I, for one, do not believe those arguments. I began my accidental career in climate finance in 1993. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to the euphoria of Kyoto, the despair of the Hague and the last second save of Bali. And, of course, Copenhagen – where the sheer enormity and heterogeneity of the issue finally truly stared one and all in the face. Yes, humanity collectively blinked and deferred.

But throughout, the UN process that has tried to manage and coordinate the world’s response has been honorable, dedicated,. You specifically should be commended for making climate the pre-eminent issue of your tenure as the Secretary General. And, it must be recognized that what the UN has been able to accomplish is strictly reflective of the mandates it has been handed by the community of nations. Those mandates have often been halting or ambiguous. However, let us also recognize it’s a two way street – the strength of those mandates is also partially reflective of and the confidence that nations have in the UN, its processes, its leaders and its managers in being a key player at the table in the climate issue.
In this light, you have a major decision to make – one that will set the tone for the crucial coming decade of the climate crisis. You have to hire somebody. As you know, Yvo de Boer announced his resignation from the UNFCCC Secretariat earlier this year. And, as might be expected, there is an emerging horse race among several candidates and I am sure all would serve the post honorably and with energy and enthusiasm.
But to be very frank, at this moment in time, we don’t need adequate, we need extraordinary. We need charisma, we need inspirational leadership. We need somebody who can think outside of the box, – but also somebody with a deep experience of the inner workings of the climate negotiating and regulatory process . And there is only one candidate, in my estimation, who remotely meets that elevated criteria – my good friend, Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica.
Yes, indeed, she is my friend – we have known each other for more than ten years as I built a business around emissions mitigation and she built a formidable reputation as a thinker, advisor, negotiator and regulator across the climate space. Even on paper, I cannot see how any other candidate can match her personal experience in all aspects of the climate conundrum – government, civil society, regulator, private sector, negotiator.
But it is off the sheet of paper where Christiana truly shines – she inspires all who meet her through her intelligence, her humanity, her strength. Most of all, she has a great senses of humor and perspective – which one could argue might be the most important job description components of all, in this hour of need.
To achieve transition to a global, low carbon trajectory, people and governments will need to go the extra mile. With all due respect to the accomplished and dedicated individuals who have run the UNFCCC since its inception, vision, inspiration and leadership rarely seemed part of their portfolio. If it’s really a war on climate, more than anything we need a general who will inspire the troops to do the extraordinary. Those of us who have been in the trenches on this issue for a decade or more are tired and dispirited – in our minds, we have moved mountains, but we step back and it looks more like molehills. I have never seen the climate community as downtrodden as in these few months since Copenhagen. And – again to be honest – you need us fired up and moving mountains.
To the contrary stands the promise of Christiana Figueres – a rallying general from a country without an army (and a country that aspires to full carbon neutrality by 2020). All you need to do is go the the Facebook group that supporters of hers created and that has grown up very quickly over the last few days and scroll through the wealth of testimonials that Christiana has inspired throughout a huge cross section of the climate and development community. Thousands of people from all walks of the climate world know in their hearts that she is the one who can make a difference at this crucial moment. And their voices are raising to be heard by you.
There is only one choice that can deliver that promise. Please make the right one and appoint Christiana Figueres as the next Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC
Marc Stuart was the founder of EcoSecurities, where he worked for 13 years prior to its integration into JP Morgan in early 2010. He is currently engaged in early stage private equity in the carbon and alternative energy space.

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