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New UNFCCC Head Patricia Espinosa’s European Experience May Come in Handy

Patricia Espinosa, the next UNFCCC executive secretary. Photo: Ecologic.eu
Patricia Espinosa, the next UNFCCC executive secretary. Photo: Ecologic.eu

Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa, who spent about a third of her life in Europe, is set to take over the helm from Christiana Figueres at the UN’s climate change division.

Although she served as Mexico’s foreign minister for six years and worked at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, Espinosa spent almost 20 years of her career in Europe.

Figueres is widely recognised as having moved mountains since she started in 2010, and will be a tough act to follow. But Espinosa’s European experience may come in handy, since it looks like countries such as China and the United States will beat Europe to ratifying the Paris Agreement.

Could some skilful mediation from Espinosa help the EU’s 28 climate change ministers and their governments shift gears, and move towards implementing the agreement? EU climate change commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has already said he looks forward to working together with Espinosa.

“Enhorabuena,” said Cañete , congratulating her on Twitter in Spanish. None of Europe’s national climate change ministers have so far reacted on social media.

As the Paris Agreement shifts from negotiation to implementation, the UNFCCC top job will be upgraded from ‘executive secretary’ to ‘under-secretary-general’, Carbon Pulse reports, linking the UN’s climate change operation directly to the main UN leadership.

From Berlin to Bonn

Espinosa will be stepping down as Mexico’s ambassador to Germany and move some 600 kilometres from Berlin to Bonn to take up her new job at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, taking over from Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres.

The announcement that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has decided on the veteran diplomat came yesterday (3 May), and is expected to be followed soon by an official confirmation after a vote by fellow-ministers in the UNFCCC’s Bureau. The process for that to happen is “underway,” Figueres said in a tweet.

Time in Europe

Espinosa spent most of the 1980s in Geneva, Switzerland, working for the Mexican delegation to the UN. After an interlude at the UN in New York, she started working for the Mexican embassy in Berlin in 2001. About a year and a half later, Espinosa got promoted to a new position in Vienna, Ambassador to Austria.

Following her stint as Mexico’s foreign minister back in Mexico City, during which she was responsible for the COP20 climate summit, she moved back to Berlin in 2013. This time to take up the post of Ambassador to Germany.

Espinosa is expected to take over from Figueres in August, at which point she will have about two months left to put her stamp on the UN’s next climate change summit, COP22.

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