South Africa’s tourism minister nominated for top UN role

South Africa’s tourism minister nominated for top UN role

South Africa is putting forward its tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk for the key post of UN’s climate change chief.

Van Schalkwyk’s nomination was approved by the South African government after President Jacob Zuma met with him at the weekend to emphasise the importance of achieving a binding climate change agreement with South Africa playing a major role in the process.

The submission comes as the UN seeks a replacement for Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“In his portfolio as minister of environmental affairs and tourism, (Van Schalkwyk) positioned South Africa as a true climate change champion,” the Presidency said in a statement, adding that he commanded significant respect across the divide between developed and developing countries.

“This will stand him in good stead in this critical phase of driving the global climate change negotiations to conclusion.”

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Van Schalkwyk was South Africa’s former minister for environmental affairs and tourism until May 2009, when the ministry was split. He succeeded former South African president FW de Klerk as leader of the National party in 1997 and presided over its dissolution and merger with the ruling African National Congress in 2005.

“We are pleased to know Minister Van Schalkwyk is being considered and would be very confident that he would be equal to the task of replacing Mr. de Boer,” said Themba Linden, Political Advisor at Greenpeace Africa. “By all accounts, he has an excellent standing as a negotiator, and has earned a great deal of respect for being very engaged and informed.”

Van Schalkwyk’s chances of being appointed are bolstered by the high likelihood that South Africa will host the U.N.‘s climate change negotiations in 2011.

South Africa along with the U.S., China, India and Brazil drafted the climate change agreement reached in Denmark in December. The deal calls for reducing emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 2-degrees Celcius above preindustrial levels. The nonbinding agreement also urges rich nations to spend billions to help poor nations deal with drought and other impacts of climate change, and to develop clean energy.

Even though it helped draft the accord, South Africa joined a chorus of critics, expressing disappointment at not reaching a legally binding climate change agreement.