UK warned not to back Mathias Cormann as new OECD head

Support for Australian ex-minister with poor record on climate crisis would send ‘terrible message’

The UK has been warned not to send a dreadful message to the rest of the world by backing a controversial Australian former minister with a much-criticised climate change record to run the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The race to be the next secretary-general of the OECD – the Paris-based economic thinktank that advises governments across the world – has narrowed to Mathias Cormann, the former Australian finance minister, and Cecilia Malmström, the former EU trade commissioner and Swedish centrist politician. The result is due by 15 March.

Malmström said she had the backing of many EU and non-EU countries in the 39-strong OECD, but admitted she did not know how the US, viewed as the key to the outcome, was planning to vote. Canada, also seen as critical, is likely to follow the US’ lead.

John Kerry, Biden’s climate change envoy, was in London for talks with British ministers, and Labour’s shadow environment spokesman, Matthew Pennycook, warned it would send a terrible signal if it was known that the UK was backing Cormann.

There have been strong suggestions from within the OECD secretariat that Boris Johnson told the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, in a call on 27 October that Cormann had the UK’s backing. The UK insists it has taken a strictly neutral position since the British ambassador to the OECD is acting as the neutral chair of the selection process. But Pennycook said it is imperative that the organisation is led by someone who grasps the urgency of the climate crisis.

Michael Bloss, the German Green MEP, also questioned the UK’s judgment. “Acting on the climate crisis and economic cooperation must go hand in hand. The UK’s proposal to appoint Mathias Cormann is adding fuel to the fire and unnecessarily prolonging the fossil fuel era. Cormann is being directly supported by climate delayer and Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison. All our alarm bells should be ringing,” he said.

The former US ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, has also backed Malmström and warned the US not to back a candidate with a poor record on climate change, saying such a decision would be regrettable. The bulk of the 39 nations in the OECD are in the European Union, and it is thought Portugal, as current presidents of the EU, is working hard to ensure that she wins the support of most member states. But Cormann, once seen as an outsider, has pushed his way through the field and worked hard to distance himself from the climate change record of the government that he helped lead.

Last week international climate change groups and advisers on the global shift from fossil fuels wrote to the OECD expressing “grave concerns” about Cormann’s leadership bid. Cormann’s role as Australia’s finance minister between 2013 and 2020 made it “highly unlikely” he could play an effective role in advocating for ambitious action on cutting emissions, the letter said.

Cormann had been in a government that abolished a carbon pricing scheme, persistently failed to take effective action to cut emissions and “acted as a blocker with international forums”.

The OECD needed to be a leader in tackling climate change, but Cormann had been part of efforts to thwart action, the letter said.

Poland, one of the countries most hostile to the EU’s green policies, has been in talks with the Australians about the posting.

Malmström said she would work strategically over her five-year mandate to see that targets were set to increase the number of women in the OECD in higher posts. She added gender needed to be part of any Covid recovery plan since women have suffered more during the pandemic.

Cormann, who is Belgian born, has presented himself as a candidate who could rally support from across the world, including the increasingly influential Indo-Pacific.

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Climate experts in dismay at choice of Mathias Cormann as OECD chief
Critics say election of former Australian finance minister with ‘atrocious record’ sends a dangerous signal

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

12, Mar, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
Mathias Cormann nominated for OECD top job despite its criticism of Coalition’s climate change policy
Australian finance minister says Coalition is committed to climate action and its record will be no barrier to his candidacy of secretary general

Katharine Murphy Political editor

08, Oct, 2020 @3:35 AM

Article image
Mathias Cormann: the OECD candidate who helped destroy Australia’s carbon-trading scheme
The former finance minister’s ‘climate pivot’ has been met with a mixture of exasperation and bemusement

Daniel Hurst in Canberra

19, Feb, 2021 @10:22 PM

Article image
'Not a suitable candidate': climate groups urge OECD not to appoint Mathias Cormann as next head
A letter signed by 29 experts and activist groups says Cormann’s climate record should rule him out of secretary-general’s job

Graham Readfearn

05, Mar, 2021 @2:18 AM

Article image
TUC calls on Raab to reject Australian candidate to lead OECD
Trade union body says Mathias Cormann would set back fight against poverty and the climate crisis

Phillip Inman

16, Feb, 2021 @6:38 PM

Article image
Mathias Cormann tests negative for Covid as campaign for OECD job puts Coalition's climate record in spotlight
The British opposition has reportedly written to Boris Johnson demanding the UK oppose former finance minister’s nomination

Daniel Hurst

13, Dec, 2020 @5:54 AM

Article image
Mathias Cormann talks up 'green recovery' in OECD pitch, despite record in office
Exclusive: Former finance minister’s pitch pushes ‘zero net emissions as soon as possible’, which contradicts record while in Australian government

Katharine Murphy Political editor

25, Nov, 2020 @10:08 AM

Article image
Flights for Mathias Cormann’s European campaign for OECD job could cost taxpayers $4,300 an hour
Morrison government is supporting the former finance minister in his bid for the job with the use of an RAAF Falcon

Daniel Hurst

23, Nov, 2020 @4:30 PM

Article image
Australian PM's office omits net zero emissions from account of Morrison's talk with Johnson
UK record of conversation stresses ‘ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero’, but account released by Australian PM’s office does not mention the target

Katharine Murphy

28, Oct, 2020 @2:35 AM

Article image
Scott Morrison to lobby for Mathias Cormann as final four OECD contenders emerge
Australia’s former finance minister has faced scrutiny over his government’s climate policies in his race for the top job

Daniel Hurst

11, Feb, 2021 @4:30 PM