Meet the envoys with a UN climate change deal in their hands

These are the figures that will make or break a new global warming agreement. Get to know them as the ‘COP21’ game of chess begins 

November 9-11's 'Pre-COP' gathering showcases the main influencers in UN climate negotiations (credit: French COP21 presidency)

November 9-11’s ‘Pre-COP’ gathering showcases the main influencers in UN climate negotiations (credit: French COP21 presidency)

By Alex Pashley

Thousands of envoys are arriving in Paris this weekend to thrash out a new global warming accord that could transform the world economy.

The UN’s climate body works by consensus, so all 196 parties have an official say in the final decision. But personalities are key in setting the tone of the talks.

Earlier in November, the French ‘COP21’ hosts held a final get-together of 60 ministers to clear bottlenecks to a deal.

The family photo is all smiles. But talks are set to be less sunny. Get to know the top national politicians instrumental in sealing a pact agreeable to all.

1. Catherine McKenna is Canada’s new environment and climate change minister. Appointed this month in Justin Trudeau’s newly-minted gender-equal cabinet, her first move was to declare “Canada is back”. It was a clear dig at ousted PM Stephen Harper, after his 9-year tenure isolated the country at UN talks – and a bold statement of intent. The new government won’t revise Canada’s criticised pledge before Paris, but a review is planned by March. Follow her on Twitter @ec_minister

2. Strident defender of the rights of Pacific states, Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum sees Paris as a “battle for survival”. While the Marshalls don’t chair the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) they are by some margin its loudest and most proactive member. They have pushed for a limit to shipping emissions at the UN maritime body, and urged countries to back a temperature limit of 1.5C. De Brum has even compared climate change-triggered migration to genocide to highlight the islands’ plight from rising seas and stronger storms. @MinisterTdB

3. The poker-faced Xie Zhenhua was thought to be on his way out as China’s lead negotiator earlier this year after it was announced he had “retired”. But Xie is back, his close relationship with Todd Stern deemed a vital asset as the two superpowers chart their way towards a Paris accord. Despite their links, China will still cause problems for the US given its position as cheerleader for developing countries, which it allies with as part of the G77.

4. Ever heard of Luxembourg environment minister Carole Dieschbourg? You’ll be seeing more of her at UN talks as the tiny duchy holds the EU’s rotating presidency. She will be flanking head of delegation Elina Bardram of the Brussels-based European Commission as she explains 28 members’ positions. Closer to home, Luxembourg is under scrutiny with the bloc’s biggest fossil fuel subsidies per person. @DieschbourgC

5. Costa Rican Christiana Figueres has led the UN’s climate body for five turbulent years, after a stint as San Jose’s envoy to the process. As executive secretary, she walks a delicate line, prodding countries to show more ambition while widening support for a deal among the business community and civil society. A snappy dresser, Figueres is known for imaginative speeches, and has taken a bold line in offering to work with oil and gas majors. @CFigueres

6. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is Peru’s environment minister and outgoing president of UN talks. The cheery politician won plaudits last year in Lima, for his role in salvaging a deal as the summit ran 33 hours into overtime. That meeting laid the groundwork for a treaty to be adopted this December. Peru has put carbon cuts on the table, along with other progressive Latin American partners, though there are concerns about its ability to tackle deforestation. @manupulgarvidal

7. Laurent Fabius is France’s seasoned foreign minister and incoming COP president. Well versed in diplomacy from a career spanning decades, expect the Fifth Republic’s youngest PM (1984-86) to take much of the credit if a deal is struck. Used to playing hardball as a chief broker in the Iran nuclear deal, he makes up part of the French presidency’s team steering the world to a deal. @LaurentFabius

8. Janos Pasztor is Ban Ki-moon’s point man in Paris. A nuclear engineering MIT grad, the mild-mannered Hungarian has spent a year as the UN’s chief special climate envoy, in an effort to build political will before the summit. Speaking out from the New York HQ, Pastzor has called on laggard countries like Saudi Arabia to get pledges in on time. He’s also tuned into the NGO world, having worked as WWF’s lead expert on conservation, policy and science. @jpasztor

9. Laurence Tubiana is France’s specially-appointed climate ambassador and a veteran of multilateral environment negotiations. The founder of Paris-based green think tank IDDRI from 1997-2002, she advised French PM Lionel Jospin in the crafting of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. She won’t be chairing the talks – that job is in the hands of foreign minister Laurent Fabius – but she is seen as the brains trust behind many initiatives ahead of the COP21 talks, especially a move to encourage business and regions to take an active role in the final outcome. @LaurenceTubiana

(Pic: Petit_Louis/Flickr)

Terrorists attacks in Paris on November 13 have overshadowed COP21 with marches and other events cancelled over security fears (Pic: Petit_Louis/Flickr)

10. Not Father Christmas, but former Spanish environment chief Miguel Arias Canete, who’s now European Climate Commissioner. He’s the face of the 28 member states and the man who will have to argue the bloc’s case in Paris. Many opposed his appointment, citing old links to the oil industry, but the affable Canete has proved himself a capable and perhaps less combustible successor to Connie Hedegaard. @MAC_europa

11. Greg Hunt reported to Tony Abbott until the ex-PM became the victim of a putsch by Malcolm Turnbull in October. The Liberal politician’s appointment in 2013 rolled the climate change brief into environment after six years as a post in its own right. It highlighted Australia’s detachment from talks, with Abbott declaring the science “crap”. Hunt wants to use the summit to highlight the country has already beat its climate commitments for 2020, though critics say emissions have actually increased. @GregHuntMP

12. Amber Rudd will be her attending her first summit as the UK’s top representative after a trip to Lima was barred at the last minute. Britain’s fourth energy and climate secretary in seven years may have to explain a series of green policy reversals that drew the ire of Al Gore and undermined the UK’s hard-won leadership. An established network of climate diplomats may be chopped in budget cuts. Plans for a 2025 coal phase-out, on the other hand, won support from Christiana Figueres. @AmberRudd_MP

13. Edna Molewa is South Africa’s uncompromising environment minister. A senior figure in the ruling African National Congress, the country leads the restive G77 bloc, a catch-all group of developing countries founded in 1964. After her deputy Joyce Mxakato-Diseko held developed countries against the ropes in a preparatory meet in Bonn in October, expect more bruising talk. Molewa, an anti-apartheid activist who rose to run the nation’s North West province for five years, will take the decisions along with China and Brazil in the BASIC grouping. @BEMolewa

14. Antonio Marcondes forms Brazil’s negotiating team as the country’s climate ambassador alongside Raphael Azeredo. Straddling developed and developing worlds, Brazil occupies an intriguing middle ground in the talks. Another member of the key BASIC group of emerging economies, the country is known for its innovative additions to the talks and smooth communications run by New York consultancy Fleishman. Passionate environment minister Izabella Teixeira, who recently called out Singapore, Qatar and South Korea for slacking, will take over during the final week.

15. Elba Rosa Perez is Cuba’s science, technology and environment minister. A member of the socialist-leaning ALBA bloc, the island nation is mending fences with the West, as its patron Venezuela totters. A diplomatic thaw brings economic opportunities in offshore oil as well as environmental challenges. Though it still slammed the long-standing US trade embargo’s impact on its development in its pledge this month.

16. Jo Tyndall is New Zealand’s climate ambassador. The big-haired diplomat is vocal on the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and has fought hard to prove New Zealand is playing its part. Critics accuse the country of “creative accounting” for its future emissions and raise concerns about its huge livestock population. Under proposals, the average Kiwi will have a bigger carbon footprint than an American by 2025. Oxfam branded it a “slap in the face” for islands across the Pacific.

17. Maria de Fatima Monteiro Jardim is Angola’s environment minister. Holding the chair of the 48-strong Least Developed Countries bloc, she will be particularly concerned to secure funds for adaptating to climate impacts. Angola itself has suffered protracted droughts that crippled farming. Giza Gaspar Martins will assist Monteiro Jardim as chief negotiator.

18. Ethiopia’s ambitious green plans have made it a lodestar for the African continent. The country is aiming to become carbon-neutral in its ascent to middle-income status, and supports carbon pricingShiferaw Teklemariam is its environment and development minister and top man in Paris. Like Angola, it’s a member of the LDCs, though it has sought to overcome the north-south divide through its involvement in the Cartagena Dialogue.

19. Jai-chul Choi, South Korean climate ambassador, represents a country eager to show its green credentials but aware of its economic reliance on heavy industry. A member of the Environmental Integrity Group with Mexico and Switzerland, Korea opened a carbon market at the start of 2015 and submitted its UN climate pledge well ahead of schedule, but the political will to make tougher decisions remains unclear.

Negotiators at the interim round of climate talks in Bonn (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

Negotiators at the interim round of climate talks in Bonn (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

20. US State Department official Dan Reifsnyder is one of the two co-chairs overseeing talks on a global climate deal. The other is veteran Algerian diplomat (21) Ahmed Djoghlaf. The co-chairs play a critical role which at times resembles herding cats. They are there to facilitate talks, release their own versions of negotiating texts and act as punch-bags when negotiations flare up. Precisely that happened in October after their slimmed text was rejected as biased towards rich nations. Djoghlaf is a seasoned UN hand, having been assistant executive director at the UN Environment Programme, and then chief of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

22. Thoriq Ibrahim is the Maldives energy and environment minister. The country chairs the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an influential group made up of 44 states and observers comprising of some of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Writing for Climate Home in June, Thoriq said warming of above 1.5C will condemn his country and others to rising sea waters. Still, critics are unhappy the Maldives are leading AOSIS with an autocratic government and the imprisonment of climate champion and ex- president Mohamed Nasheed in a trial Amnesty International described as a “travesty”. @Thoriqibrahim

23. Todd Stern is the pencil-thin US climate envoy charged with ensuring a Paris deal will be politically acceptable to the White House while stressing the country’s commitment to an ambitious settlement. In his seven-year stint at the top of climate politics he has veered from being the Dr Evil of the talks at COP17 in Durban to the hero of the US-China accord last November. Few know the nuances of this process better or hold more cards. He is backed by lawyer Susan Biniaz, whose job it will be to make sure the agreement can be steered past a hostile Congress.

24. Jochen Flasbarth is Germany’s bearded environment secretary. At the fore of the European juggernaut’s transition toward renewable power and nuclear phase-out, Flasbarth’s voice is much reduced given the EU’s speaking for the bloc. But his insight is valued. @JochenFlasbarth

25. Paul Oquist is Nicaragua’s climate chief. The Illinois-born, California-educated minister of public policy may speak Spanish with a heavy accent, though he is a key part of the renegade ALBA grouping. The central American state is yet to put up a pledge and is better known for plans to build a US$50bn challenger to the Panama Canal. Oquist is the executive secretary of the contentious project, which remains in planning.

26. Ian Fry is Tuvalu’s bow-tie-sporting climate ambassador. The string of coral atolls between Australia and Hawaii has an outsize voice in talks with the Australian legal professor demanding big polluters do more. With a maximum elevation of 4m, if we save Tuvalu, we save the world, Fry says.

In attendance but not photographed

Saudi Arabia’s 80-year old petroleum minister Ali Al Naimi will lead the Gulf kingdom’s delegation in Paris. The world’s most powerful oilman, who pulls the strings at OPEC, was until this year the chairman of the world’s biggest oil company, Saudi Aramco. The country is on a PR offensive before Paris, reasserting its status as a “developing” country in the UN convention, though it did come forward with a pledge. Privately, French officials say the country is highly volatile. The world’s top crude exporter, it has promised to make some carbon cuts, provided oil revenues remain robust. @KsaCop21

India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar represents the world’s second most populous country and seventh largest emitter at climate talks. But out of those 1.2 billion people, 300 million have no access to electricity, and despite a GDP of US$ 2 trillion, 21% of its citizens live below the poverty line. Javadekar has to talk tough for a home audience yet try and deliver a credible carbon cutting policy to wean India off coal. Otherwise 2C could be history. @PrakashJavdekar

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