A voice from the islands: Grenada’s environment minister appointed UN climate change chief

Screenshot from a video statement by Grenada’s environment minister, Simon Stiell, in recognition of World Environment Day 2020, taken from a YouTube video by The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

On August 15, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced the appointment of Grenada's Minister for Climate Resilience and the Environment Senator Simon Stiell as Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change:

The appointment by UN Secretary-General António Guterres is seen as a recognition of the vulnerability of small island states in the struggle against climate change. Steill takes over from Ibrahim Thiaw, who had been acting in the position for four weeks.

One climate expert noted that although women had been touted for the job, gender parity was not a major issue, since Stiell was following in the footsteps of two women, who, like Stiell, are both from the Americas region: Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa and Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres:

Espinosa herself tweeted her congratulations to her successor:

The appointment had been rumored since early August.

Veteran climate change warrior Al Gore tweeted his congratulations:

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), currently chaired by Antigua and Barbuda, and an important champion for small islands at UN Climate Conferences, expressed great pleasure at the appointment:

Reaction from the Caribbean was highly positive. Jamaica’s Minister Without Portfolio with responsibility for climate change and the environment Senator Matthew Samuda was among the first to congratulate his Caribbean colleague. He was quoted by the UK Guardian:

“He’s an excellent choice, very qualified, and very committed to the climate change agenda. Most importantly, he understands the challenges of developing nations. Jamaica and no doubt the entire Caribbean looks forward to working with him.”

Earlier Samuda had tweeted:

Director of Climate at Open Society Foundations Yamide Dagnet tweeted congratulations from Guadeloupe and was quoted in an article from the UK Guardian:

“It’s incredible to see proven island leadership take the helm at UNFCCC. My hope is that this will bring renewed impetus for just transitions towards vibrant, more resilient low-carbon economies and societies.”

The recently re-elected Commonwealth Secretary General, Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland, tweeted:

In a 2019 video on Facebook, Stiell talked about climate resilience, discussing how small islands could be “fleet of foot” and move forward in adapting to climate change:

Explaining why Grenada was the first country in the region to establish a Ministry of Climate Resilience…..#ClimateResilience

Commentators made it clear that Stiell would have plenty of work on his plate, suggesting that there are specific, daunting and complex issues to be addressed.

Trained as an engineer and with management experience in the technology sector, Stiell’s major task will be guiding negotiations at the COP27 Climate Change Conference in Egypt, which comes at a critical point after an extremely challenging year and a COP26 (Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow, where Caribbean nations continued to seek solutions.

The influential Climate Action Network International listed priorities for Stiell:

A green business website outlined some of the daunting tasks ahead:

Stiell will now face the challenging task of steering negotiations at the upcoming COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt this November, where ramping up flows of climate finance from richer nations to nations more vulnerable to climate impacts is set to be a major bone of contention once again.

The summit will also take place against a difficult backdrop of soaring global fossil fuel prices, rising food and living costs, global food shortages, economic headwinds and worsening geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia and China that is likely to further open up fissures and distractions during the crunch talks. And with just eight years to go countries have to meet their national 2030 climate goals in support of the Paris Agreement, the pressure is on to ensure all parties step up to the plate with more ambitious decarbonisation plans ahead of the summit.

A UK Green Party member shared her thoughts:

One sustainable shipping advocate observed:

It appears that Stiell is well aware of the challenges, for small islands and for the entire planet. In February this year, he tweeted about the IPCC’s latest Climate Report:

Steill appears well positioned to make a difference on the international stage and perhaps, to “shake things up” at COP27 in Egypt. He is a champion of the concept of “One Point Five” – a campaign which was formed in the Caribbean and emerged at the historic Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 – and a voice for small islands that are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts. But he will likely face an uphill struggle in trying to shift the larger nations from their complacency.

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