Russia is trying to block the reappointment of the UN environment agency

Russia is trying to block the reappointment of the UN environment agency

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Russia is trying to block the reappointment of the Danish head of the top UN environmental agency after a highly critical report on the war’s impact on Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

According to two UN sources, Russia has been agitating for several months against the reappointment of Inger Andersen, an economist with a long career at the World Bank, as Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.

The move is seen by diplomats as part of a broader effort by the country to influence the world stage and undermine the aims of Western nations that have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials authored a so-called non-paper in late 2022 that formally opposed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ shared intention with member states to reappoint Andersen, the people said. Her first four-year term ends this year.

The Russian mission to the UN said in a statement to the Financial Times that the role has been “monopolized” by representatives of Western countries.

UNEP’s Executive Director was supposed to be an “honest broker”, but Andersen had “promoted Western and particularly European environmental priorities and agendas and politicized the decisions of this body”.

The president of the UN General Assembly will formally propose Andersen’s reappointment later this year, a resolution that Russia could vote on. A successful vote against them would require the support of at least a majority of the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly.

In October, UNEP published a report on the devastating environmental consequences of the war against Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government.

“Ukraine, already burdened by a variety of environmental legacy issues, now faces a deepened, multi-dimensional environmental crisis,” the report concluded. “The country and region risk being burdened with a toxic legacy long after the conflict has ended.”

While Russia has lobbied for support for its discussion paper on the UN environmental role, people familiar with the matter said they thought it unlikely it would garner enough support to prevent Andersen’s reappointment.

But the move is seen as part of the Putin regime’s attempts to frustrate Western powers, which have imposed financial sanctions and backed Ukraine. “Russians make it difficult for people in different contexts,” a diplomatic source said. “This is just another forum.”

Another UN diplomat said: “In our estimation, this is classic Russian leverage. . . trying to get a price for having their objection overturned.”

“This is a narrative they are trying to force on the UN – the West against the rest,” the person added. “They played this game before, before Ukraine, but now they really want it.”

A third person from an Eastern European government said they were aware of the Russian push against Andersen.

At the COP27 UN climate summit in November, Russia was among the fossil fuel-producing countries that resisted attempts by many nations, including the US, EU, UK and India, to commit to the use of all fossil fuels set gradually.

Russia has long been an outlier in discussions about climate change, despite suffering the effects of global warming from wildfires and the threat of huge releases of methane and carbon from the melting of Siberian permafrost.

The UN Secretary-General was determined to propose Andersen for reappointment. “In line with past practice, the Secretary-General has informed Member States of his intention to re-appoint UNEP’s Executive Director for a second term. The secretariat cannot comment specifically on the ongoing consultation process with member states,” his spokesman said.

UNEP declined to comment.

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