For the past year though he has laboured under the unfortunate moniker of the Crying Dutchman after he famously broke down in tears on a conference platform in Bali where 200 nations had gathered to squabble over carbon emission cuts.
Over the course of 12 exhausting days, the USA and then China took it in turns to undermine de Boer, the executive secretary for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Hence his very emotional reaction before being escorted from the venue.
Ironically today as UK transport secretary Geoff Hoon formally unleashed the country’s biggest environmental battle for a generation by approving a third runway at Heathrow Airport, de Boer was at a key meeting in Tokyo. The city is hosting a gathering of transport ministers from 23 countries to debate how their respective sectors can tackle global warming.
The Crying Dutchman was not as emotional as during his Bali meltdown but his displeasure at transport’s performance so far is obvious.
The science, he argues, is “crystal clear”. Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next ten to 15 years and then drop by at least 50 per cent against 2000 levels by the middle of the century. Otherwise the planet is toast.
For industrialised countries this means cuts of up to 40 per cent against 1990 levels by 2020. “All of the current trends in transport fly in the face of what science tells us is required,” says de Boer.
“Present political action in the transport sector is woefully inadequate.”
Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in transport increased in industrialised countries by 16 per cent between 1990 and 2006. The recession and turmoil engulfing the global car industry are expected to lead to falls in emissions in the short term, but de Boer still points an accusatory finger.
Car manufacturers have actively blocked fuel efficiency standards in California, he argues, while their European counterparts successfully lobbied to remove new carbon capping targets from the EU’s energy and climate package.
Many countries in the world are putting together huge bailouts for their car industries, with $17 billion earmarked for Detroit manufacturers in the first three months of this year alone.
“Bailout packages for banks and the auto industry must be tied to strict conditions for economic and environmental sustainability, otherwise we are setting ourselves up for renewed failure further down the line,” he adds.
“This includes ensuring that rescue packages for the auto industry are linked to a clear and strong commitment by it to produce clean and fuel efficient vehicles. Several car producers presented highly efficient show cars with minimal fuel consumption already at the beginning of this decade.
"We now need to see these cars on the road, replacing today’s gas guzzlers.”
More generally de Boer believes that the global transport sector will come under intense pressure to stop “digging itself deeper into a hole” and dramatically change direction, particularly at the UN’s meeting at Copenhagen later this year.
“Transport industries should no longer find themselves in the position of beggars for billions of tax payers’ dollars. Instead they need to come back into pole position of drivers of economic growth, through the production of smart and efficient cars, trains, ships and planes.”