Q&A: The National sits down with Ban Ki-moon to discuss climate change

The editor-in-chief of The National, Mohammed Al Otaiba, sat down with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Ascent, a high-level meeting on climate change. Here is the full transcript of the interview.
ABU DHABI // On the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Ascent, a two-day high-level meeting ahead of September's Climate Change Summit, The National's editor-in-chief Mohammed Al Otaiba met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UAE's renewable energy initiatives and global action on climate change.

Mohammed Al Otaiba: Good morning and thank you for talking with The National. You are here to push for the climate mandate and the UAE is dedicated to being active globally. What can the country do to ensure that an ambitious treaty is agreed in Paris? The world has a little more than a year to agree to a new climate treaty. So are you optimistic on this document? What can be achieved and what needs to be done by all parties?

Ban Ki-moon: First of all, I'd like to highly commend the initiatives of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, government leaders and the people of the United Arab Emirates for their great initiative to work together with the United Nations for humanity. Yes, Abu Dhabi Ascent is already a great success, in a sense that it has generated a momentum; a momentum that has harnessed a political and social and moral power to, first of all, reduce the climate emissions - greenhouse gas emissions - and also to strengthen our resilience to climate impact.

This is taking place at the critical time when the world is united to fight against climate change and this is the only chance, only milestone before the climate summit meeting, which will be held on September 23. People are now discussing how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the key areas which have been the source of greenhouse gas emissions like energy, cities, transport and buildings and agricultures. All these areas are the ones where we really need the most of our efforts.

I really appreciate the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a regional power, popularising the actions on the ground and now I'm going to see the Shams solar power plant. Last time when I was here, I visited Masdar City and I was very impressed by this innovative idea, this CSP - concentrated solar power plant. It's the one which really can bring answers to strengthen this sustainable energy.

As for the prospect of climate deals by next year, I think momentum is very much highly generated; there's a change in the air and the people heed that this is the time to take action. I'm optimistic that we will have a global legal climate change event in September.

MAO: On your trip to Masdar, you would probably have witnessed the building for Irena, which will be ready by the end of the year. So what are your thoughts now on Irena? Irena is just a kernel at this stage, slowly growing. But its role is significant as people get more involved and push for a climate mandate.

BKM: Irena has become a very important international validation on renewable energy and we really appreciate the United Arab Emirates' very creative and cohesive ideas towards energy issues. Adnan Amin, who is managing director, has been working with the United Nations and I have utmost confidence in his ability. Also, I've been working very closely with Dr Sultan Al Jaber, who is president of Masdar City, and all the very creative and hard-working young leaders of this.

We sincerely hope that Irena will lead this campaign towards sustainable energy. As you know in 2011, I launched an initiative called "Sustainable Energy for All". This has three goals: by 2030, we have to provide universal access of electricity to all the people in this planet. That's ambitious but doable. Second is to obtain [significant amounts of] renewable energy in the global energy mix, and thirdly, double the energy efficiency rate. There is a lot of waste of energy, and how to make energy use efficient and effective, that is very important aspect.

So three goals will be achieved by 2030 and this has been supported by member states. I'm sure that with Irena and with the full political support by the UAE government and also member states, this will be met.

MAO: Then there is the question of changing the behaviour of the people who consume energy. Is enough being done, do you think, to educate people at the grass-root level to support their leaders for this cause?

BKM: That's a very important one. It's not only government or business who can save energy, who can participate in the sustainable energy initiative for all. It's individuals. By changing their behaviour, they can really contribute to this United Nations' initiative to achieve sustainable energy.

I myself have been leading by example. When I was a young boy, there was no electricity in Korea. Until I became a freshman in college, I had to study with the help of small kerosene lamps. Whenever there was an examination, I had to buy candles. So I studied under the candlelight.

So I know the energy problem of the 1.4bn people who do not have any access to electricity. That's why we must provide universal access of electricity to all the people now. The United Arab Emirates is championing this energy, using renewable energy resources like solar energy, concentrated solar power, this is a good example and you are also trying to have nuclear energy sources.

We have to use tidal energy and wind sources. All these sources of renewable energy, which all cause the least greenhouse gas emissions, and I really count on United Arab Emirates' continuing leadership.

MAO: There is an argument that in the next 50 or so years, global warming might actually prove beneficial to mankind - by creating more arable land in the higher latitudes, for example. Does it worry you that people might see these short-term benefits and ignore the longer term dangers?

BKM: This land use is very important area in our global fight against climate change. Land degradation causes a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. That is why now I understand that member states and communities, particularly agricultural communities, are now trying to create a global alliance for climate-smart agriculture. I am fully supporting this. Land degradation and forest degradation - deforestation - really cause big [amounts] of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore we need to invest more in climate-smart land use.

MAO: If I may use the land issue to talk about Syria. Syria is currently facing a lengthy drought and obviously, that does have an impact on the country's agricultural economy. And the UN can perhaps do a little more to bring the fighting to a cease, but there's the refugee crisis that keeps worsening. So what is the UN doing to show that all those countries that have committed to contributing to the Syrian refugee fund actually pay up? And if the war continues for much longer, can you see a situation where the number of refugees overwhelms the UN's ability to provide food, clothing and shelter?

BKM: There was an agreement at Geneva in June 2012, which provided some basic framework of a political solution by establishing a conditional government body with full effective powers including military and intelligence. That has not been implemented so far. Now we are really trying hard to resume the Geneva negotiations, but the announcement of presidential elections on June 3 are not compatible with the spirit of Geneva.

Now we are working very hard with the political influence of Russia and the United States, and also we are discussing this matter with the regional powers, the League of Arab States - I met Secretary-General Nabil El-Araby of the League in Abu Dhabi -on how we can work together with Arab partners.

On the humanitarian aspect [of your question], I highly appreciate and commend such generous support from the United Arab Emirates. In January this year, you contributed $60m and last year also you have been very generous. I count on continuing support. But the number of people the United Nations has to take care, of including 2.7m refugees, is extraordinary.

Just more than half the population of Syria is affected now. Almost 50 per cent of schools have been destroyed, almost half of hospitals and health facilities have been destroyed and are non-functional. Therefore, it creates a huge humanitarian crisis on top of the political crisis. We've been really trying hard but it has not been enough.

Thirdly, as you know, well over 100,000 people have been killed. I think there is an informal, unofficial number: more than 150,000 people might have been killed and a lot of people have been wounded and therefore, the United Nations Human Rights Council instituted a commission of inquiry and they have been documenting, they have been investigating and collecting evidences of human rights violences.

We will make sure that the perpetrators of those violations of human rights will be brought to justice.

And fourthly, non-proliferation, that is, the destruction of chemical weapons. As of the end of April, we have been able to destroy almost 93 per cent. We have about 7 or 7.5 per cent remaining. Our target is June 30. With strong help from the Syrian government we are relatively reasonably optimistic that we will be able to meet the target of bringing out all these chemical weapons declared from Syria and destroyed finally. Those are our Syrian strategies.


Published: May 5, 2014 04:00 AM


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