U.N. leader: Global climate change is up to the U.S.
Global warming will never be reined in unless the United States leads the way, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday at the beginning of his two-day visit to Seattle.
Seattle Times reporters
Global warming will never be reined in unless the United States leads the way, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to Seattle.
Ban praised the city for setting an example with policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and said such local initiatives help build momentum for national policies.
"All the world is now looking to the leadership of the United States and President Obama," Ban said in an interview.
Since taking the top job at the United Nations in 2007, Ban has made climate change a priority and has been pressing nations to commit to firm emission limits when they meet in December in Copenhagen to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto climate accords.
The former South Korean foreign minister is also on a mission to improve relations with an American public often ambivalent — and occasionally hostile — to the international body.
"Having a strong partnership between the U.S. and the U.N., as well as getting ... the appreciation of the American public for the work the U.N. is doing, is very important," he said.
The fact that Seattle is the hometown of one particular, wealthy American philanthropist is also a factor in Ban's visit. He will join Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, for breakfast today at their Medina mansion, to discuss ways to reduce maternal death rates around the world.
A woman dies every minute from preventable complications of pregnancy or childbirth, Ban said.
"This is what we have to stop," he said. "Government support is crucial, but so, too, is private funding. That is why I'm going to discuss this matter with Bill Gates."
The Gates Foundation and the U.N. have collaborated on development and food programs, including an effort called Purchase for Progress (P4P). The project aims to turn hundreds of thousands of small farmers in Africa and Latin America into suppliers for the U.N.'s World Food Programme, which provides food for 90 million people in 80 countries and has a budget of nearly $3 billion this year.
Climate change complicates many other problems the U.N. is working to solve, Ban said, such as poverty and famine and the ensuing political instability.
In 2000 the U.N. set a series of targets called Millennium Development Goals for improving health and reducing poverty by 2015, but the food crisis and global economic downturn have stymied progress. No country in sub-Saharan Africa is currently on track to meet those goals, Ban said.
Ban said he is creating an advocacy group for a renewed push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and will ask Bill Gates to join it.
The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington initiated Ban's visit by asking him to help celebrate the school's centennial, said director Anand Yang.
Ban will receive an honorary degree, meet with business leaders at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and participate in a discussion with representatives from civic groups, charities and others at a forum sponsored by the World Affairs Council.
After nearly three years on the job, reviews of Ban have been mixed. Some critics say he's failed to speak out forcefully enough to exercise the U.N.'s moral leadership role in public.
But Ban strongly defended the U.N.'s performance. With little real power, diplomacy and a bully pulpit are the secretary-general's main tools, and Ban said it's important to use each judiciously.
While some may view the U.N. as ineffective, situations such as the ethnic conflict in Darfur would be far worse without its presence, he said. Ban added that he has been able to deploy 90 percent of the 26,000 peacekeepers authorized to the region, which is more peacekeepers than the U.N. had deployed around the world a decade ago. The Darfur efforts have saved half a million lives, he said.
He also acknowledged that the U.N. faces an unprecedented number of global issues at the same time.
"Have you ever seen in our history when the ... international community has been hit all at once by all these crises: climate change, economic crisis, food security, energy crisis, pandemic?"
Ban said his commitment to climate change was partly inspired by travels to Antarctica, Bangladesh, Brazil and the Arctic, where melting ice, floods and ecosystem disruptions are already under way.
He said he's hopeful that after more than a decade of resistance, the U.S. Senate will soon adopt legislation to limit carbon emissions. President Obama has committed to action, but it's time for concrete steps, Ban said.
If the U.S. fails to act soon, India and China may bail out of climate negotiations and erase any progress with their rapidly rising greenhouse- gas emissions, he warned.
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