UN chief names choices for top UN environments posts

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 7:58 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The newly-appointed head of the U.N. environment agency said Tuesday he wants to change the organization to relate more to the average person and plans to further engage the private sector to achieve global environmental goals.

Erik Solheim, Norway's former environment minister, said he will take over as executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, known as UNEP, sometime in mid-summer, succeeding Achim Steiner, "sometime in the summer."

"To be successful in the U.N., I think we also need to change our ways," Solheim said in a telephone interview. "Far too often people are speaking in very bureaucratic language and using lots of acronyms that people in the streets of Helsinki or Shanghai cannot understand and relate to."

"Hopefully I can inspire people to relate more to the average man. Unless you can make the average Finn, Chinese or South African engage with the environment you get nowhere. So we need to change our language into a more emotional, more scientific and less bureaucratic mode," he said.

Solheim, 61, currently heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's committee on development assistance based in Paris, and serves as UNEP's special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced Solheim's appointment Tuesday and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's intention to appoint Mexican ambassador Patricia Espinosa Cantellano for the U.N.'s top post to tackle climate change — as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC.

The appointment of Espinosa, a career diplomat who has been Mexico's ambassador to Germany since 2012 and was foreign affairs secretary from 2006 to 2012, needs final approval from the convention's member nations. She would replace Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica.

Solheim said Nairobi-based UNEP, which calls itself "the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda," has achieved "quite a lot," but that more can be done.

"We need much stronger protection of species and ecosystems ... all the way from the big iconic animals like elephants and polar bears and tigers down to the bees and butterflies," he told the AP. "It's a huge undertaking but I think with a can-do, optimistic attitude we can achieve a lot. In the end it's an issue of political will."

Solheim said the reason who the world's nations reached a climate agreement in Paris in December "was because businesses came with the attitude that there's a lot of profits, money, to be made from climate agenda, renewable energies, and change in agriculture."

"Basically, no one can change the world alone. You can only do it with partnerships, with other parts of the private sector, with governments and the World Bank," he said, adding that he was encouraged by the interest displayed by the business sector at the Paris conference.

As for Espinosa, Dujarric said she has more than 30 years of experience at the highest levels in international relations, specializing in climate change, sustainable development, global governance and human rights.

She would head the secretariat that supports the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — the international treaty agreed upon at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that set up negotiations for further treaties to try to control the rise of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The convention of nearly 200 countries produced the landmark Paris climate agreement last December that has been signed by 177 nations or parties.

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Huuhtanen reported from Helsinki.