U.N. Climate Leader Yvo de Boer to Step Down

In an unexpected move, the head of a major United Nations climate body resigned today. Yvo de Boer, secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), announced that in a few months he will leave his post to join the consultancy group KPMG as its Global Adviser on Climate and Sustainability.

In an interview with the Associated Press, de Boer acknowledged disappointment with the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, saying a more formal agreement on how to combat global warming was "an inch away." "It was basically in our grasp, but it didn't happen," he told the A.P. "So that was a pity."

Yet de Boer insisted that Copenhagen wasn't why he was quitting. In the UNFCC statement on his resignation, de Boer stresses that businesses will be key to any climate change solution, saying, "I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business. … This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen."

David King, former chief scientific adviser for the United Kingdom and director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, calls de Boer "a seasoned U.N. negotiator". King adds that while de Boer may have been partly responsible for creating overly high expectations for the Copenhagen talks, he shouldn't receive the blame for the final result of the conference.

De Boer's resignation comes at an awkward time, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has come under increasing fire, with critics calling for the resignation of its director, Rajendra Pachauri. Policy experts meanwhile are working desperately to prepare for another round of climate negotiations in Mexico later this year.

Still, de Boer's resignation may create a "very real opportunity" for a "fresh face at the helm" of climate policy negotiations, suggests King. The U.N. needs to find someone who "commands the respect of the international community and has a clarity of vision," he says. "We need to see that the trust is regained."