United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the United States to combat the “imminent threat” of climate change, both by reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and by leading the effort to craft a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Ban, who spoke at the Harvard Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Tuesday (Oct. 21), placed climate change among five major global threats that he said will require a new multilateralism by the world’s nations.
“We cannot delay action any further,” Ban said. “The United States must take a leadership role in addressing climate change.”
The other threats include the global financial crisis, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and global health.
Ban said that these dangers are different from many problems faced by individual nations because their effects cross borders and they will, thus, require international cooperation to address.
Ban was introduced by Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood and by Dillon Professor of Government and Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Graham Allison. Ellwood said it was a great honor to welcome Ban, a Kennedy School graduate, back to the School. Ban was a Mason Fellow in the 1980s, earning a master’s of public administration in 1985. It was one of the School’s proudest moments, Ellwood said, when Ban became secretary-general in 2007.
Allison, who was Kennedy School dean when Ban attended, recalled Ban as a young man who joked that he was “JFK,” which stood for “just from Korea.” He said Ban met President Kennedy in 1962 as part of a group of students who visited the White House and that Kennedy presciently said, “What hope we have in the future is in all of you.”
Ban’s talk, “Securing the Common Good in a Time of Global Crises,” was sponsored by the Belfer Center and the Korea Institute at Harvard University.
Ban, who met with several faculty members before his speech, said he was proud to be part of the Harvard community and that his days studying here were a “golden time.”
He then moved on to more serious topics, issuing a call to action for those in the audience to work toward solving the world’s problems.
“We come together today at a time of intense crisis,” Ban said. “It’s time to move the pursuit of the common good to the top of the agenda.”
The global financial crisis is the flip side of the prosperity brought about by globalization, Ban said, and any solution has to address the needs of people all over the world, rich and poor alike.
“We have heard much in this country on how programs on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street. We need to think more about those people around the world with no street. Wall Street, Main Street, no street — the solutions devised must be for all,” Ban said.
Beyond the current crisis, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals represent an important international effort to ease poverty, with the aim of cutting in half the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015. Those goals, which also include targets for education, health, and gender equality, among others, have drawn substantial financial pledges from the world’s nations. It is critical that nations continue to honor those commitments, Ban said.
On climate change, Ban said it is the world’s poorest countries — which had the least to do with causing the problem — that will feel its effects most. He praised Harvard’s efforts to make itself environmentally sustainable and said that a successor to the Kyoto Protocol must be negotiated by next year if it is to be in place in time for Kyoto’s expiration in 2012.
The world’s industrialized nations have the capacity to address climate change but lack the political will, Ban noted. It is his job to muster that will, he continued, pledging to work closely with the next U.S. president.
Global health has become a more pressing issue in recent years, with the advent of rapid transportation that can quickly spread disease around the world, as happened in the case of SARS and which health officials are fearful might happen with a mutated strain of avian flu.
The good news about global health, Ban said, is that several powerful new actors are working on the issue, although, he added, their efforts and those of nations around the world require better coordination. Good progress has been made on malaria, he said, which, together with polio, he hopes to see eradicated.
Terrorism is an international issue that is also deeply personal for its victims, Ban said. The international response has to be more innovative, more multilateral, and one which better uses the collective strength of nations involved, he said.
Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation remain laudable goals that virtually everyone agrees on, yet they also remain goals on which it’s difficult to make meaningful progress, Ban said. Though nations agree that nuclear weapons should never be used, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is not in force, conventions on chemical and biological weapons are not universally accepted, and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is “facing a crisis of confidence.”
“Why,” Bas asked, “does disarmament remain a noble cause rather than a historical achievement?”