Simon Stiell, a former senior official in Grenada's government and engineer with wide-ranging experience at tech companies, said on Wednesday he has taken up his new job as U.N. climate chief.
He assumes a key leadership role in the global effort to "turn promises into actions," as he put it in announcing he had started the new position. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced Stiell's appointment earlier this month to succeed Mexico's Patricia Espinosa as executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.
In mid-July Espinosa left the post, which was temporarily handled by Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania, former executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.
Guterres warned the world in March that it is "sleepwalking to climate catastrophe" as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's war in Ukraine put the 2015 Paris Agreement's goal of limiting Earth's warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels further out of reach.
The Paris treaty's goal is to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible — though the world already has warmed by more than 1 degree, so the choice is between four-fifths or three-tenths of a degree more warming.
Nations also committed to mobilizing US$100 billion a year in climate financing to improve developing nations' adaptation and resilience amid rising temperatures.
Leading the Bonn, Germany-based UNFCCC, Stiell is in charge of a secretariat known as U.N. Climate Change that has around 450 staff from more than 100 nations. Each year it provides the platform for successive rounds of U.N. climate talks among virtually all of the world's nations.
"Excited to take up my new role as UNFCCC executive secretary in Bonn, Germany," he said. "Will a fully operational Paris Agreement, this is the decisive decade to avoid the worst climate impacts. The task ahead is clear: We need to turn promises into actions and keep the 1.5 C. goal alive."
'We need the highest ambition'
Guterres described Stiell, who has held a succession of ministerial posts in Grenada, as "a true champion for formulating creative approaches for our collective global response to the climate crisis," and as someone who possesses "a unique skill set" along with "vast experience in bilateral, regional and multilateral affairs.
Stiell was a senior minister in the Caribbean island nation from 2013 until this June, serving as minister for climate resilience and the environment for five years. He also was a minister for education and human resources development and a minister of state, and before that was a member of Grenada's parliament.
In the private sector, he worked for 14 years and held senior executive positions in some leading Silicon Valley-based tech startups and at Nokia and GEC Plessey Telecommunications. He trained as an engineer in London and holds an MBA from the University of Westminster.
At the 2018 U.N. climate talks in Katowice, Poland, Stiell reminded delegates that the chair of the U.N.'s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had emphasized that "every action matters, every degree matters, every year matters, and every choice matters."
Stiell expressed his government's frustration that nations were not doing what they acknowledged was urgently needed to be done to tackle the climate crisis by fulfilling their obligations under the Paris treaty and its "rulebook" for implementing it.
"We speak about increasing ambition, but when we look at the rulebook that is being developed, the central theme that I see is that we're trying to do our best to weaken the agreements that were made in Paris back in 2015. For small developing nations like Grenada, this cannot be right," he said. "We need the highest ambition to protect us from the ravages of climate change."