“Hard act to follow”: Christiana Figueres to step down from UN climate post

Christiana Figueres has been hailed as "one of the great leaders of our time" as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change announced today (19 February) that she would be stepping down from her post.

Figueres, who was influential in structuring the historic climate deal agreed in Paris in December, has formally written to global governments announcing her intention to step down from her position when her tenure finishes in July 2016.

The letter from Figueres states: “It is with deep gratitude to all of you that I write to formally announce that I will serve out my term as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which finishes on July 6, 2016, and not accept an extension of my appointment.

“The Paris Agreement is a historical achievement, built on years of increasing willingness to construct bridges of collaboration and solidarity. It has been an honour to support you along this path over the past six years.

“We now move into a phase of urgent implementation. The journey that lies ahead will require continued determination, ingenuity and, above all, our collective sense of humanity and purpose. I know that together you will again rise to the task.”

Figueres noted that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will invite parties to submit candidates to act as a replacement. As part of a reshuffle Figueres’ post will be elevated. Figueres stated that she was ‘highly inspired’ by the UN’s continuous battle against climate change, taking time to commend a ‘highly qualified and deeply committed team’.

Fond farewell

During the two-week Paris talks, Figueres was instrumental in ensuring that the COP 21 proceeded as planned in the wake of the terrorist attacks that rocked the city two weeks before the conference. She was proactive throughout the conference, liaising with faith groups, businesses and NGOs on key climate issues.

Even in the comparatively noiseless aftermath of the talks, Figueres has remained one of the most vocal actors calling for change from big business and governments. Last month, she stated that COP 21 was the easy part of the deal, and that the hard work to drive a low-carbon future started now.

Speaking in response to Figueres’ decision to step down, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Nicholas Stern said: “Christiana’s contribution to international climate negotiations over the last six years has been really extraordinary. She is gifted with an outstanding ability to see where we need to go as a world and to bring people together.

“Christiana is one of the great leaders of our time. She no doubt has much more to contribute in the coming years. The challenge for everyone is to build on her achievements, and I am sure she will be part of that.”

Since the announcement, Figueres has also been showered with praise on social media.

[<a href=”//storify.com/edie/christiana-figueres” target=”_blank”>View the story “Christiana Figueres departure reaction” on Storify</a>]

Matt Mace

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