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Blue Smoke

A Newsletter Tracking Senior UN Appointments

Oiling the Machinery of Climate Governance


Sultan Al Jaber at Abu Dhabi Forum, 18 January 2023
Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, an Emirati politician, at the Arctic Circle Abu Dhabi Forum, 2023. He heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and is the United Arab Emirate’s special envoy for climate change and president of the COP28 climate talks. Their credibility has been compromised by the country’s leadership of the conference, and it appears that Azerbaijan, another oil producer, could be president of COP29.   

The head of an oil company who doesn’t believe there is scientific evidence to support the need to phase out fossil fuels chairs the United Nations’ most important climate summit — the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He got the job because it was an Asian country’s turn to host the summit and the United Arab Emirates was the only one to offer to do so. Behind closed doors, out of sight of the public and the media, largely unaccountable people then agreed that he should have the Presidency associated with the current COP (now underway through Dec. 12).

The decision to have UAE host COP28 was then ratified by an international process few people understood. As a result, the credibility of the UN climate summit was dealt a massive blow, seriously harming global efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

A similarly opaque process has just unfolded again. Behind those same closed doors, diplomats and politicians have found a host for next year’s summit, COP29. It was a last-minute decision: it is Eastern Europe’s turn, and it looked like states were at an impasse choosing among Bulgaria, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with at least one state opposing each. In that context, Moldova and Serbia were rumoured to be mulling long-shot bids, and there was even talk of Australia stepping into the gap, or talk of holding the summit at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany, with the German state foregoing the central role hosts traditionally play in summits.

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But after Armenia and Azerbaijan’s statement normalising diplomatic relations, it appears that Azerbaijan will host COP29. The president has not been named, and there is speculation that this next summit could break with tradition and name a President associated with UNFCCC itself or with a country other than the host.

Against this backdrop, Blue Smoke’s partner Plataforma CIPÓ is at COP28, making the case for strong, accountable leadership on climate action. CIPÓ’s new report, “Unveiling Inequalities: A spotlight on senior appointments at key UN environment and development bodies,” highlights the historic and ongoing inequalities in climate leadership, taking four UN entities as case studies: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The CIPÓ briefing highlights the lack of female and Global South representation and explores how these gaps affect the organisations’ functioning, particularly as climate change has a disproportionate impact on people in the Global South as well as women and girls.

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What’s up?

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar left office in June and the post has still not been replaced. Some civil society activists and commentators will be pleased, as they have been arguing that appointing a Special Envoy right now will do nothing except give unearned credibility to what is, in the UN’s own words, an illegitimate military junta, which has committed systematic crimes against humanity. However, the delay in appointment is apparently not intentional: the Secretary-General hasn’t found the right person yet. We hear that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which the UN has been increasingly leaning on to lead diplomacy on Myanmar, is pressing the Secretary-General to make his pick soon.

The UN-Habitat Executive Board meeting has concluded. For three days, states lined up to heap praise on the outgoing Secretary-General Maimunah Mohd Sharif of Malaysia, who, many people feel (as we reported last month), was pushed out before her time. What’s interesting is that there still appears to be no word on who will succeed her. Her last day in office is Jan. 19, 2024, and seasonal holidays as well as the UN General Assembly’s need to vote on approving the nominee make that a tight deadline. Having cut short a seemingly popular appointee in the middle of her term, it will be embarrassing for Guterres if there is no one to succeed Sharif when her shortened term ends.

Coming up

2024 promises to be a year of important appointments. Here are two for your radar:

The Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security (DSS) is appointed for a nonrenewable five-year term, so the UN will need a new USG before the end of May. It’s a critical job. DSS not only provides protection of UN premises and senior officials but also expertise and leadership to the wider UN Security Management System (UNSMS), which is responsible for the safety of staff across all UN agencies. We’ve just experienced the most lethal year in the UN’s history, with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) alone losing 133 staff to military action in a few months’ time. This appointment cannot be more vital.

The Under-Secretary-General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) will need to be chosen by the Secretary-General and approved by the General Assembly before October. The person will be responsible for all of the UN’s internal accountability mechanisms: catching and preventing the UN’s all-too common instances of abuse, bullying and harassment. It should also provide leadership regarding the UN’s fairly woeful performance management and appraisal system. Additionally, as to due process and privacy, OIOS should be involved in vetting candidates for senior positions. It has been alleged that on occasion, the Secretary-General has recommended someone for a senior appointment while being unaware there were multiple OIOS investigations against them. (Inner City Press allege this has happened again recently).

The Big Three

There is little transparency around appointments of three of the most important offices at the UN: OCT (counterterrorism), DPPA (peacebuilding and political affairs) and DPO (peacekeeping). It’s no coincidence that the post-holders are invariably nationals of permanent members of the Security Council: Russian, American and French, respectively.

From tips, rumours and educated guesswork, our working assumptions suggest that all three heads of these offices are currently operating on short contracts of one or two years, although the Secretary-General may look to quietly extend the arrangements, as he has in the past, until his own term is up, at the end of 2026. Our best judgment is that Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s contract at DPO ends in April (or later), Rosemary DiCarlo’s at DPPA in May and Vladimir Voronkov’s in June. Do you know otherwise? Corrections and clarifications are most welcome.

Tip Line:

Do you know something more about who is in the running for these posts? Or information about another upcoming appointment? Contact us in total confidence at Any information you give us will only be used on the terms you set.


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Oiling the Machinery of Climate Governance
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Ellen Tolmie
Ellen Tolmie
6 months ago

Kudos again to Blue Smoke for pointing out the deep lack of transparency in UN senior appts processes and, in particular, the obscure, twisted process of choosing a country and head for the climate COPs. We need a major uprising of countries, including GA resolutions and whatever else it takes to move the needle, to reform this process. Given that we have only a few short years to 2030, instead of expending much gas on where to hold and who to head these COPs, let’s agree to: hold them all in Bonn; ask Germany to commit to an increasing, verifiable greening of the conference site; make all senior political COP appts to run these subject to criteria that include scientific expertise in lowering GHGs, top country ranking in meeting their Paris commitments, countries presently-most-affected by climate change and, last but not least, limits of fossil fuel (private or state-affiliated) accreditation to a small percentage of all delegates and balanced by an equal or greater number of official civil society representatives. These are just some ideas on how to do this …

The Blue Smoke newsletter is a joint project coordinated by the Blue Smoke project and delivered in media partnership with PassBlue. Blue Smoke is a working group of NGOs committed to ensuring that appointments to senior, political, and public roles at the UN are inclusive, democratic, merit-based, transparent, and subject to scrutiny.

Visit the Blue Smoke website to find out more.

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