Australia’s former finance minister Mathias Cormann has been elected as the new head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, sources close to the group told AFP.

The 51-year-old politician was chosen “by a slim majority” during a meeting on Friday of ambassadors of the 37-nation OECD, which advises advanced economies.

A powerbroker in the ruling centre-right Liberal party and Australia’s longest-serving finance minister, Cormann quit parliament late last year to seek the top job. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, had promoted Cormann’s OECD credentials in calls with international counterparts in recent months.

His candidacy was dogged by complaints from environmental groups that his record on climate change did not qualify him for the job.

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 the country’s carbon pricing scheme, failed to commit to a net-zero emissions target, maintained fossil fuel subsidies, and “acted as a blocker with international forums”, it added.

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

Cormann emerged as a surprise frontrunner for the job and beat out his main rival, Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström, a former EU trade commissioner.

He will succeed Mexico’s Angel Gurría, whose third five-year term ends in May.

Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon-emitters per capita, and green groups have long lobbied the federal government to wean itself off fossil fuels, especially after devastating bushfires last year.

Despite his record, Cormann put environmental action at the centre of his campaign for the OECD job, arguing the body “can and must provide important global leadership to drive ambitious and effective action on climate change”.

“As secretary general of the OECD I would work with member countries and partner organisations to deploy every policy and analytical capability available through the OECD to help economies around the world achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050,” he told the Guardian in February.

Cormann’s climate pivot caused a mixture of exasperation and bemusement among climate analysts and former political sparring partners in Australia, who say his rhetoric does not match his track record.

In November, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt wrote to all OECD member countries with a vote on Cormann’s candidacy, asking them to reject his application.

Bandt released a video message last Friday directed at the OECD, saying if it wanted a leader with any credibility on climate change, “then Mathias Cormann ain’t your guy”.



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