The next Secretary General of the United Nations? This Caribbean climate leader makes diplomats “jump” with enthusiasm

The next Secretary General of the United Nations?  This Caribbean climate leader makes diplomats “jump” with enthusiasm

The United Nations

When asked last week if she would run to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados gave a thumbs up, smiled and walked away. However, unofficially, UN officials say she is likely one of the frontrunners.

The selection process for 2026 is still a long way off, but discussions about who will be best placed to win this powerful position have already begun.

Historically, there has been geographic rotation for this position, so it seems likely that the next UN leader will be from the Latin America and Caribbean region – and many advocates say it’s time to a candidate to present herself, after 78 years of only male leaders. .

In the corridors and behind the scenes of the United Nations headquarters in New York, Mottley is one of several names being discussed as potential suitors. Two sources said former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – would soon launch a campaign, although a representative for Santos denies this.

Among others, the Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is also a recurring name in discussions about the successor to the current UN Secretary General, António Guterres, as is Alicia Bárcena, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico; Rebeca Grynspan, senior UN official and former vice president of Costa Rica; and Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, former president of the United Nations General Assembly and former minister of Ecuador.

But it is Mottley, charismatic and outspoken, whose name often arouses the most enthusiasm. Although Mottley has not yet announced that she would run, a U.N. diplomat said, “I would jump up and down” with excitement if she did.

Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a neighboring island, said she would get her vote if she chose to campaign.

“I think she would make an excellent general secretary,” he said. “Whatever she does, I will support her. »

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Mottley became prime minister of Barbados in 2018 and won a second term in a landslide election four years later.

Internationally, she is known for breaking her country’s postcolonial ties with the British monarchy and for her powerful speech on slavery reparations, climate change and the need to reform global financial institutions through the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral banks.

Mottley also doesn’t mince words when it comes to the great powers. In her speech to the General Assembly last week, she asked: “How is it possible for Chevron and the European Union to access Venezuela’s oil and gas, when the people of the Caribbean cannot? access with the 35% reduction offered by the European Union? people of Venezuela?

In 2022, Mottley led the Bridgetown Initiative, a policy plan to reform the global financial architecture and development finance to be more equitable, particularly in the face of the climate crisis. The initiative would change how money is lent to developing countries and create a special emergency fund for climate disasters.

In April, Mottley also joined forces with current UN chief Guterres and announced a revamp of his project, called Bridgetown 2.0, highlighting six development priorities for development finance that will be discussed on the world stage at the annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank. in October, COP28 in November and the Future Summit in 2024.

Many diplomats in New York and abroad have said they believe in Mottley’s potential to represent issues affecting the developing world as a U.N. leader – but also in his ability to bring his unique style of leadership to this role.

“I don’t think I can remember any other leader in recent history other than Obama who has captured the attention of the international community in the way it has,” said a UN diplomat.

Yet some warn she is taking political risks. Considering the move significantly challenges the status quo of international finance, UN expert Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group says Mottley needs to carefully plan his next steps.

Other observers point out that attempting to upend existing systems risks angering at least one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has the final say on the secretary-general selection process.

Mottley’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

The next UN secretary-general will take office in January 2027. Is four years too soon to start talking about who the organization’s next leader will be? For some, this is a necessary debate for an institution that finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with criticism and geopolitical paralysis from the powerful Security Council.

“I don’t think it’s early at all,” said Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign minister. “It’s very important to start discussing this topic because I think it’s also a question of what the future of the UN and the UN Security Council should look like.”

Valtonen and others also say the time was right for the organization to have its first female leader. “This position should be based on merit,” she said, “but I think it would be very remarkable if once again it wasn’t a woman who was chosen.”

The selection process has long been secret, but opened up a bit in 2016. To be considered, candidates must first be nominated by a country, usually their own, and then recommended by the Security Council to the General Assembly.

During the last selection process in 2016, a group of countries committed to only submitting female candidates – an initiative is currently being relaunched for the next selection process. In 2016, thirteen candidates presented themselves, including seven women. But Guterres – a Portuguese diplomat long considered the favorite for the role – was ultimately elected.

“There are always plenty of men who want to run,” said Ben Donaldson, head of campaigns at the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom.

This year, he said, “I hope the message will come through loud and clear from the majority of states and civil society that no state should field male candidates. “We are all working to increase the stigma around this, hoping we can nip it in the bud. »

Susana Malcorra, a former candidate in the 2016 general secretary elections and co-founder and president of the advocacy group Global Women Leaders Voices, is also working to ensure that political pressure will bring female candidates to the next cycle.

“It is not so much a question of talking about a Julie, an Anne or a Mary, it is rather a question of speaking of a Madam Secretary General as a general proposition, then of ensure we lead the way to get there,” she said.

But not everyone is on board with the effort.

Dennis Francis, president of the 78th United Nations General Assembly from Trinidad and Tobago, does not believe men should refrain from running. “I think men should turn out next time, just like women should turn out in numbers,” he said.

“Because what I would like is for a woman to win in such circumstances, and not among women. That would be the wrong message.

And with the powerful Security Council already frozen on a number of issues since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is difficult to imagine its members ultimately reaching consensus on a single candidate.

“All I have to say is grab your popcorn,” said Julia Maciel, a diplomat from Paraguay.

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David B.Otero

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