Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Science/Environment

February 18, 2010

UN climate chief quits, leaves talks hanging

AMSTERDAM — The sharp-tongued U.N. official who shepherded troubled climate talks for nearly four years announced his resignation Thursday, leaving an uncertain path to a new treaty on global warming.

Exhausted and frustrated by unrelenting bickering between rich and poor countries, Yvo de Boer said he will step down July 1 to work in business and academia.

With no obvious successor in sight, fears were voiced that whoever follows will be far less forceful than the skilled former civil servant from the Netherlands.

His departure takes effect five months before 193 nations reconvene in Cancun, Mexico, for another attempt to reach a worldwide legal agreement on controlling greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for the gradual heating of the Earth that scientists predict will worsen weather-related disasters.

The resignation "comes at the worst time in the climate change negotiations," said Agus Purnomo, Indonesia's special presidential assistant on climate change. "His decision will ultimately add to the difficulties we already have in reaching a successful outcome in Mexico."

De Boer made the announcement just two months after a disappointing summit in Copenhagen that ended with a nonbinding accord brokered by President Barack Obama promising emissions cuts and immediate financing for poor countries — but even that failed to win consensus agreement.

In an AP interview last month, de Boer acknowledged that the summit left him deeply disheartened. "After Copenhagen I was very depressed. I was depressed for a few weeks," he said.

But within days he was holding private talks to patch over bitter accusations between Britain and China, and was publicly calling on all sides to stop slinging mud about responsibility for Copenhagen's breakdown.

De Boer's successor will be named by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has put climate change on the top of his own and the U.N.'s priorities. He is likely to look for a candidate from the developing countries.

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