South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, and former Minister of Environmental Affairs has emerged as one of the frontrunners to replace Yvo de Boer as chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC. In the follow up to de Boer’s resignation, candidates from Indonesia, India, Costa Rica and van Schalkwyk from South Africa, were promoted for the position by their respective national leaders. As the race draws to a close, van Schalkwyk and Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres have emerged as the key candidates for the role.

 Despite the disappointments at Copenhagen, de Boer still leaves big shoes to fill, with regards to his unwavering energy, rigour and experience he applied to coercing paradoxical sovereign interests at key climate negotiations. His successor, van Schalkwyk as predicted, or Figueres, will have to ensure that the developed – developing country divides witnessed at Copenhagen do not exacerbate. Furthermore, the new Executive Secretary will have to illicit exceptional leadership and diplomatic skills if climate negotiations are to regain credibility and have any measure of success in carving out policy to abate and adapt to climate change.

A big feather in van Schalkwyk’s cap is the expectation of a formal legally binding treaty being ready by the time COP 17 occurs in December 2011 to be hosted by South Africa. Having developing country leadership of the UNFCCC and leadership from the country hosts is viewed as one of the best chances of securing a treaty and succession to the Kyoto Protocol.

van Schalkwyk has had a chequered political history under the apartheid regime, emerging as Minister of Environmental Affairs under appointment from South Africa’s former President Mbeki in 2004. This ministerial experience has given van Schalkwyk positive standing with high profile countries in the UN. In addition, South Africa has been praised for the emissions cuts it announced in the run up to Copenhagen, although the recent approval of a $3.75 billion from the World Bank for the Medupi power station has jeopardised these target’s and South Africa’s approach to climate change mitigation. van Schalkwyk may also face opposition in the form of Figueres’ importance in encapsulating gender issues in leading climate change action. UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon has the ultimate authority to make the appointment, expected in the near future.

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