The case for a climate change envoy

The case for a climate change envoy

IT is now clear to all concerned that not only Bangladesh but the rest of the world too will have to deal with climate change for decades to come. Hence it will require permanent national and international institutions to deal with adaptation as well as mitigation and green development over not just the next five-year plan but for the next few five-year plans.

At the global level, the main institution to discuss and agree actions is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There are also other fora where climate change discussions are held and decisions taken, such as the recent Climate Summit in New York called by the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki Moon.

It is for this reason that a number of developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and others, have appointed special climate change envoys to be able to attend all relevant meetings (not just the UNFCCC negotiations). Recently, several developing countries, such as Indonesia, have also appointed climate change envoys.

Most recently, the Gambia was the first Least Developed Country (LDC) to appoint a Special Climate Change Envoy, Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju. He was previously a highly effective chair of the LDC Group in the UNFCCC negotiations and just a few weeks ago he was also appointed minister for environment of the Gambia (while also remaining the climate change envoy). He represented the Gambia at the Climate Summit as well as several high-level meetings
in New York.

The case for a climate change envoy
I would like to make the case for other LDCs, including Bangladesh, to consider appointing climate change envoys, giving some reasons in support of my argument and also mentioning some obstacles that would need to be addressed.

Firstly, climate change related meetings at regional and global level are taking place almost continuously and not just at the annual UNFCCC meetings. Hence, keeping up with such meetings seriously will be a full-time job.

Secondly, the current negotiators tend to be technical people or general bureaucrats from the ministry of environment in the LDCs, including Bangladesh. The topic of tackling climate change has become one that is no longer just technical or environmental, so it requires a higher level of political engagement on a more regular basis then just once year negotiations at the Conference of Parties (COP) under the UNFCCC.

Finally, the skills required for being a successful climate change envoy are not technical or environmental but diplomatic, and require specific knowledge of UN procedures. Hence, the most suitable candidate for selection as a climate change envoy will be a senior diplomat who has spent time posted in the UN in New York or Geneva. Technical aspects could be handled by the experts from other ministries who would advise the envoy.

One obstacle in selecting a diplomat as climate change envoy from the foreign ministry is possible resistance from the ministry of environment (which has traditionally handled international meetings). These turf issues cannot be resolved at ministerial level, and need resolution by the head of government whose decision will be accepted by all the ministries. It would also help if the appointee is known to have a close relationship with the head of government as this will enhance his/her credibility in dealing with other countries.

As adaptation to adverse impacts of climate change as well as mitigation and green development pathways are developed at both national as well as global levels it is especially important for LDCs, including Bangladesh, to remain actively engaged in connecting the national with the global. Therefore, all heads of government of LDCs, including Bangladesh, should consider appointing a skilled current, or retired, diplomat as the climate envoy to represent the country's interests at all global climate change fora and meetings.

The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh.
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