Who’s who: The men and women tasked with stopping climate change

Eighteen men and women who will play a vital role in developing an international deal to curb emissions


By Ed King

Two weeks ago environment ministers and envoys met in Paris to discuss how to move talks on a climate change deal forward.

The gathering, organised by the Major Economies Forum, brought together key figures from around the world who are tasked with developing a global deal.

Countries have agreed to work towards an agreement which will be signed off next December – back in Paris.

Below we’ve highlighted some of the individuals who will likely determine if and how the planet will avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

You can match their profiles with their faces using the numbers above.

1 – Edna Molewa, South Africa Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs

Africa’s leading economy talks big on climate change, and hosted the 2011 UN summit in Durban. It’s likely to be hit hard by temperature rises, but is struggling to ditch a chronic coal addiction. Plays an important role as a member of the Africa Group, and BASIC (along with Brazil, India and China).

2 – Laurent Fabius, France Foreign Minister and likely Paris 2015 summit President

Fabius is the smooth former prime minister chosen by Francois Hollande to keep a French hand on the UN process before the country hosts next year’s deciding meeting. First elected as a politician in 1978, he is also an expert in paintings and sculpture, and in 2010 wrote a book about tables.

3 – Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator

One of the most powerful climate officials on the planet, Xie is the face of China at UN talks. Vice chairman of China’s top economic development body, the National Development and Reform Commission, he recently announced Beijing could reveal an emissions cap by early 2015.

4 – Prakash Javadekar, India environment minister

Appointing by new prime minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar says he will “overhaul” India’s approach to UN climate talks and play a more aggressive role. The vast country is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, but with millions still without electricity, strongly resists calls for it to accept any emissions cuts.

5 – Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

The tiny island state is a paradox. Highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and ocean-borne storms, it also has one of the world’s highest per-capita carbon footprints. Balakrishnan has already led a review examining its ability to adapt, as well as introducing new laws to fine polluters – but the country still resists calls for it to make tougher carbon cuts.

6 – Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia’s Special Climate Envoy

Tall and unhurried, Pa Ousman’s calm exterior belies a fierce workload. As one of the main representatives for the 49-strong Least Developed Countries bloc, it’s his job to fight for the world’s poorest and most climate vulnerable. What they lack in economic clout they make up by shining a light on the plight of countries expected to suffer most from storms, heatwaves and rising seas.

7 – Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands capital Majuro has sunk beneath the waves twice in the past 12 months – due to exceptionally high tides. For de Brum it’s a sign of the future – a motivation behind his frantic diplomatic schedule, flying around the world to drum up support for a tough 2015 treaty. Big brother Australia’s lack of concern remains an unspoken worry.

8 – Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief

The Costa Rican runs a fierce campaign for greater climate awareness from her headquarters along the Rhine, in Bonn. Tasked with guiding UN negotiations, she is the face of the international community’s efforts to curb emissions, balancing the needs of poorer countries, civil society and business.

9 – Heherson Alvarez, Philippines Climate Change Commission

For the past two years the Philippines has been hit by a savage tropical storm days before the annual UN summit, highlighting the dangers of future extreme weather events. Alvarez is a veteran in what is a powerful set of Filipino envoys – but the country is another that struggles to ditch its coal addiction.

10 – Oleg Shamanov, Russia’s climate negotiator

The verbose Shamanov has one of the hardest jobs on the circuit. Russia is one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, and would likely suffer under any tough emissions cutting deal. Vladimir Putin’s views are unclear. Draft proposals indicate Moscow is aiming to stabilise emissions at 2014 levels by 2030.

11 – Todd Stern, US climate envoy

Stern is President Barack Obama’s man at the table, tasked with pushing back on efforts to make the 2015 deal a ‘top down’ legally binding treaty. US talks with China are deemed to be critical for the talks – as is the White House’s Climate Action Plan, released in 2013, and new power plant emission standards, published in June.

12 – Greg Barker, former UK climate minister

Barker led the UK’s climate finance team until recently, when he stepped down as climate minister. A Conservative in the governing coalition, his close relationship with prime minister David Cameron was seen as proof Number 10 was committed to the 2015 deal. With his departure that is now being debated.

13 – Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner

The former Danish environment minister is a vociferous and combative proponent of EU climate leadership – known less for her quiet negotiations than loud speeches. Hedegaard leaves later this year, but will face a final task of steering the bloc’s 2030 climate and energy package past member states in October. Denmark’s government reportedly wants her to stay on as Commissioner.

14 – Marcin Korolec, Poland’s climate envoy

EU negotiations team chief in 2011, and President of the 2013 UN summit in Warsaw, Korolec is another veteran of negotiations. But Poland’s huge reliance on coal and apparent reluctance to embrace renewables places him in a delicate position at EU talks, where he is accused of slowing progress towards a regional 2030 climate target.

15 – Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Denmark’s climate and energy minister

A former WWF campaigner, Petersen recently announced Denmark’s new national climate law, making it twice as ambitious as the rest of the EU in efforts to cut carbon. Denmark is one of the EU’s greenest countries when it comes to climate policy – pushing for tough emission cuts, as well as high renewable and efficiency goals.

16 – Trigg Talley, UN deputy climate negotiator

Todd Stern’s number two – and a man who will only speak under ‘deep cover’. So we can’t tell you what he really thinks.

17 – Artur Runge-Metzger – EU official, UN co-chair of 2015 negotiations + 18 – Kishan Kumarsingh – Trinidad and Tobago official + UN co-chair of 2015 negotiations

Runge-Metzger is one of the EU’s top climate officials, but is currently working for the UN as co-chair of the stream of talks aimed at developing a 2015 global deal. After a series of testing rounds of talks, he and his colleague Kishan Kumarsingh released a list of options that look like the skeleton of a draft agreement.

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