South Africa’s minister of tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk is front-runner to replace Yvo de Boer as UN climate chief, sources familiar with the selection process said on Thursday.
The run-off is between developing country candidates, reflecting their rising status in stalled UN climate talks to agree a successor to the existing Kyoto protocol. De Boer, of the Netherlands, steps down on July 1 after almost four years.
An interview panel had selected a final shortlist of van Schalkwyk and Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres, one source said, adding van Schalkwyk had the support of key countries. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would make the final decision.
A western diplomat based in New York agreed those two were the favoured candidates.
“The front runner is Marthinus,” said a third source, also on condition of anonymity.
“The positive arguments are that he is a minister and so can talk to ministers, and has been a governor of a state so knows how to manage. You need a politician to deal with politicians.”
Van Schalkwyk was premier of Western Cape Province from 2002 to 2004. Figueres has been a member of the Costa Rican climate negotiating team since 1995. Her father, Jose Figueres Ferrer, was president of Costa Rica three times.
Norwegian environment minister Erik Solheim praised van Schalkwyk. “He is a very strong candidate, as he was the South African minister of the environment (before taking his present post), but there are other strong candidates,” he said.
“It’s very likely that Secretary-General Ban will appoint someone from a developing nation. That would mean a move from Europe to the developing nations and I think that’s very sound.”
South Africa has proposed some of the most ambitious curbs on carbon emissions among developing countries. However, it recently courted criticism from environmentalists by pushing ahead with plans for one of the world’s largest coal power plants.
De Boer announced in February he would step down, saying a new era of diplomacy was starting after the Copenhagen climate summit last December fell short of agreeing a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol which comes to an end after 2012.