At Model UN in Chicago, Ban Ki-moon hails youth focus on climate change

Ban Ki-moon in a group photo with students at the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago

9 February 2008 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has praised high school students in Chicago for debating the problem of global warming at a Model UN, emphasizing their potential to effect change in the future.

"I am here because you are the leaders of tomorrow," Mr. Ban told an auditorium filled with students attending Walter Payton High School, where he was joined Friday by Mayor Richard Daley on a stage that also accommodated a set of youth representing various countries from around the world.

"Standing in this hall, my thoughts go way back to 1962 when I was a freshman in college and participated in this type of mock-UN debate," said Mr. Ban, drawing laughter when he recalled that that at the time, there was no color TV; only black-and white.

"My advice is that you be as close as possible to real politics," he said. "By doing that you will be able to act as real delegates of the countries you are representing. By doing that you will improve and learn about real politics and the real world."

He said the UN "needs the support of global citizens like you."

The Secretary-General, who has given priority galvanizing international action on climate change, said the issue requires immediate attention. "People say that we should have taken action yesterday, but if we take action today, it may not be too late. We have capacity, technology, resources, finances - all we are lacking now is the will.

"This is not a question of whether or not; this is not a question of when, this is a question of we must win and this is a question of we must act now."

As the debate began, the delegate from the United States urged a common approach to the problem, but Washington was criticized by other participating countries for not having ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding pact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

One student talked about the impact of the problem on a country's GDP. "For example, India is a developing country so... global warming," he began.

"I'm sorry, India, you're time has expired," said Elizabeth Sabol-Jones, the young woman playing the role of Secretary-General who chaired the meeting with strict adherence to parliamentary procedure.

Despite the bureaucratic constraints, the students did achieve a consensus; a resolution entitled '1A' and reprinted in the event's programme noted that "without a conscious efforts by Americans, little can be done to stop climate change," while referring to "the power of students to impact change."

The Secretary-General's visit was well-received by students who had previously found him to be a remote figure. "He sounded human and he made some good points," 15-year old Jeffrey Callen told the UN News Service after the debate. "And he even opened up about his past, talking about when he was in college, and that helps me to connect more to him."

Naomi Sharpe, 15, agreed. "We hear big names all the time but we never really know what they're doing and what they feel, and it did make [him] seem human and open our eyes to see what we need to do right now," she said.

Mr. Ban welcomed the students' attentiveness to the problem of climate change. "I am very much impressed and encouraged by what I have just seen with the students debating [the] global warming issue," he told a press conference held in a music room adjacent to the auditorium.

"I could see the bright future from our future leaders - leaders of tomorrow."

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