New Leadership for U.N. Environment Programs

Published August 5, 2016

The United Nations has hired new leaders to tackle climate change and other environmental concerns.

In May, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa Cantellano to be the next executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and appointed Norwegian diplomat Erik Solheim to lead the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), a job that involves a wide range of responsibilities—including implementing programs to protect endangered species, helping to ensure natural resources are developed and used efficiently, and responding to the harmful effects of climate change.

Espinosa has said her first task is to jumpstart the implementation of the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. In order for the Paris agreement to go into effect, it must be ratified by at least 55 parties, which, in total, must account for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. At press time, only 19 of the 178 parties that signed the Paris agreement have ratified it.

Solheim says he wants to change UNEP so that the agency’s missions are conveyed in such a way that the average person is able to better relate to them, and he also plans to further engage the private sector to achieve global environmental goals.

Cantellano ‘Ensures’ Status Quo

Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, says he expects little to change with the new appointments.

“By appointing Mexican Ambassador Patricia Espinosa Cantellano to the United Nation’s top climate-change post, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ensures the agency’s biased, unscientific approach to climate matters will continue,” Harris said. “Espinosa, a career diplomat with no science training, is largely responsible for the scientifically flawed and deceptive Cancun agreement, in which developing nations were given an opt-out clause so they would not be held to greenhouse-gas reduction targets.

“Espinosa’s support of Cancun’s nonsensical plan to limit the so-called global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius, as if we had a global thermostat, illustrates how little she understands about the highly uncertain science of climate change,” said Harris. “Under Espinosa’s leadership, it is clear little will change and vast sums [of money] will continue to be wasted on this misguided exercise.

“It is clearly time for the United States and all developed countries to defund the UNFCCC,” Harris said.

Agency Needs to Change Its Ways

According to Harris, if Erik Solheim really wants to change UNEP to relate more to the average person, he should pay close attention to the results of the United Nation’s “My World” survey, in which 9.7 million people from across the world rated “Action taken on climate change” as dead last out of 16 suggested priorities for the United Nations.

“Solheim is certainly right when he said to be successful in the United Nations, the agency needs to change its ways,” Harris said. “In this case, it needs to stop wasting money trying to stop the planet’s climate from changing.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.