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Top U.N. Climate Official Yvo de Boer Resigning

Yvo De Boer

Yvo De Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change listens to comments during a session on climate change at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Top U.N. climate change official Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press Thursday that he was resigning after nearly four years, a period when governments struggled without success to agree on a new global warming deal. His departure takes effect July 1, five months before 193 nations are due to reconvene in Mexico for another attempt to reach a binding worldwide accord on controlling greenhouse gases.

De Boer is known to be deeply disappointed with outcome of the last summit in Copenhagen, which drew 120 world leaders but failed to reach more than a vague promise by several countries to limit carbon emissions -- and even that deal fell short of consensus.

But he denied to the AP that his decision to quit was a result of frustration with Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen wasn't what I had hoped it would be," he acknowledged, but the summit nonetheless prompted governments to submit plans and targets for reining in the emissions primarily blamed for global warming. "I think that's a pretty solid foundation for the global response that many are looking for," he said.

De Boer's resignation comes in the wake of the continuing Climate-gate scandal -- a story that began with the leak of stolen e-mails from top climate scientists and led to revelations of sloppy science, efforts to suppress dissenting opinions and ultimately flaws in the U.N.'s top climate policy document. 

The embattled ex-head of the research center at the heart of the Climate-gate scandal recently dropped a bombshell of his own, admitting in an interview with the BBC that there has been no global warming over the past 15 years.

De Boer nevertheless told the AP he believes talks "are on track," although it was uncertain that a full treaty could be finalized at the next high-level conference in November.

The partial agreement reached in Copenhagen, brokered by President Barack Obama, "was very significant," he said. But he acknowledged frustration that the deal was merely "noted" rather than formally adopted by all countries.

"We were about an inch away from a formal agreement. It was basically in our grasp, but it didn't happen," he said. "So that was a pity."

The media-savvy former Dutch civil servant and climate negotiator was widely credited with raising the profile of climate issues through his frequent press encounters and his backstage lobbying of world leaders.

But his constant travel and frenetic diplomacy failed to bridge the suspicions and distrust between developing and industrial countries that barred the way to a final agreement at the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

People who know de Boer say he was more disheartened by the snail-paced negotiations than he was ready to admit.

"I saw him at the airport after Copenhagen," said Jake Schmidt, a climate expert for the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "He was tired, worn out." The summit "clearly took a toll on him."

Deb Boer, 55, was appointed in 2006 to shepherd through an agreement to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required industrial countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions an average 5 percent.

He said the high point of his efforts was the agreement by developing countries, reached at the 2007 conference in Bali, Indonesia, to join in efforts to contain global warming in return for financial and technical help from the wealthy nations.

The Bali meeting was so intense that during its final meeting, when he was accused of mishandling negotiating arrangements, de Boer walked off the podium in tears. He came back later to an ovation from the thousands of delegates.

His assertiveness sometimes led to accusations that he was overstepping the bounds of a neutral U.N. facilitator.

"They are absolutely right. I did that because I felt the process needed that extra push," he told the AP.

When he was hired, he said, he told U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, "If you want someone to sit in Bonn and keep his mouth shut then I'm not the right person for the job."

Yet De Boer habitually put a positive spin on events. Though he occasionally chastised governments, he did it in diplomatic tones. At times when his aides were describing him as "furious" -- especially with the administration of George W. Bush -- de Boer kept his public comments so modulated that it sounded like praise.

De Boer said he will be a consultant on climate and sustainability issues for KPMG, a global accounting firm, and will be associated with several universities.