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At Harvard, UN chief urges global community to confront world’s existential threats

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony and lecture for 2014 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year Award in Cambridge, Massachusetts. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony and lecture for 2014 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year Award in Cambridge, Massachusetts. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
2 December 2014 – The world today faces an increasing array of threats to peaceful coexistence – from climate change and conflict to poverty and disease – all of which loom over the future of the planet’s physical survival, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today in a lecture delivered at Harvard University.

Speaking in an address to the University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he accepted the Harvard Humanitarian of the Year Award on behalf of “brave and courageous UN staff” the Secretary-General remarked that the world stood at the cusp of momentous change, both as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approach their 2015 deadline and as the UN prepares to mark its 70th anniversary.

“For almost 15 years, the world has pursued the Millennium Development Goals,” Mr. Ban said, as he described the UN-backed efforts to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, promote education, especially for girls, fight disease and protect the environment. “The gains have been remarkable. But there is a long way to go.”

“We are determined to finish the job of the MDGs. But we also want to address emerging issues such as inequality. And we want the new goals to include critical factors that were not part of the MDG framework, such as building peaceful societies with responsive, accountable institutions.”

Mr. Ban, who had earlier met with Harvard President Drew Faust, told the gathering – which included faculty and students – that while the present global population is the “first generation” that could bring an end to poverty, it also remains the last with the possibility of slowing global warming before it becomes “too late.”

His comments come as Member States kick-off a UN climate conference in Lima, Peru where they will put forward their proposed contributions to a new universal UN-backed treaty on climate change to be adopted in Paris in December 2015.

“We need all countries to come together to secure a new climate agreement next year in Paris,” he said. “We need individuals to do their part through the choices they make, from voting booths to grocery stores.”

Harvard University, Mr. Ban acknowledged, already supports the work done by the Carbon Disclosure Project – a non-governmental initiative aimed at assisting businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and invest in climate-friendly programmes. But he encouraged the institution to be “an even bigger part of the transition to a safer, healthier, low-carbon future” and help the world onto “more sustainable footing.”

Beyond climate change, however, the planet’s existential threats remain numerous and insidious, the Secretary-General continued, as he warned of the constant danger posed by the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“The world remains over-armed, and peace is underfunded,” said Mr. Ban, as he praised the “important work” that has been done to keep fissile materials from reaching terrorists or other hostile actors. “But ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons.”

“People are asking why the nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernize arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist.”

Nevertheless, he said, efforts were underway to reduce the global nuclear footprint as Governments and civil society prepared to gather in Vienna next week in an effort “to challenge the belief that nuclear weapons should be valued as a rational basis for defense and national prestige.”

Turning to the imminent challenges posed by sectarian hatred and intercommunal violence – which continue to ravage countries spanning from Syria and Iraq to Central African Republic and South Sudan – the Secretary-General stated that human rights violations remain the international community’s “clearest early warning signs of instability and violence.”

Here, Mr. Ban said, his new Human Rights Up Front initiative would compel the UN to speak up on rights abuses around the world “far earlier, and if necessary far more pointedly, even if that is not what Governments want to hear.”

“Our hope is that Human Rights Up Front will lead to earlier, more determined steps to keep situations from escalating.”

But, he added, global solidarity would continue to be tested unless the international community did its part to help contain the explosive Ebola crisis which the affected countries were “struggling to contain,” despite the bravery of first responders and the UN’s rapid Ebola response mission.

“The outbreak is evolving unevenly with an increase in cases in western Sierra Leone and the emergence of a new chain of transmission in Mali. And we are still short of resources,” he lamented.

As a result, he called on Harvard’s scientists to continue their “pioneering research efforts” on Ebola and continue to pursue vaccines and cures for the myriad other diseases afflicting the world’s populations.

“We cannot ward off earthquakes and other natural disasters,” Mr. Ban admitted. “But man-made ills are entirely within our power to prevent. A sustainable world of freedom and dignity for all is entirely within our power to build.”

UN agency chief reports on Iran, DPR Korea nuclear files, measures to curb climate change

IAEA marine experts and Japanese scientists collect water samples in coastal waters near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Photo: IAEA/Petr Pavlicek
IAEA marine experts and Japanese scientists collect water samples in coastal waters near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Photo: IAEA/Petr Pavlicek
20 November 2014 – The safe and limited use of nuclear energy can help reduce the impact global energy demand is having on our planet’s volatile climate, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said today as he launched his agency’s latest report on the issue and discussed the nuclear programmes of Iran and the Democratic republic of Korea (DPRK).

Speaking at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting this morning in Vienna during which he presented the body’s latest Climate Change and Nuclear Power report, Director General Yukiya Amano explained that nuclear energy was bound to play a larger role in national energy programmes worldwide as global energy demand was “likely to grow dramatically in the coming decades.”

“Along with hydropower and wind, nuclear energy has the lowest life-cycle CO2 emissions,” Mr. Amano said. “As part of a low-carbon national energy portfolio, it contributes to the mitigation of climate change and can help to reduce concerns over volatile fuel prices and security of energy supply.”

The launch of Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2014 comes just ahead of the next round of UN climate talks to be held from 1 to12 December 2014 in Lima, Peru, where countries are expected to negotiate and shape their contribution to reducing carbon emissions before next year’s flagship meeting in Paris.

In the Peruvian capital, the IAEA will be showcasing its report in an effort to highlight nuclear power’s “contribution to the global climate change agenda,” the agency noted in a press release, adding that the report discusses nuclear power’s “non-climatic environmental benefits, such as helping reduce local and regional air pollution” while also being considered in climate change adaptation measures, such as seawater desalination or hedging against hydropower fluctuations.

In his remarks, Mr. Amano reassured delegates that the report also focussed on the importance of safety and security measures when utilizing nuclear energy, pointing to his agency’s upcoming project devoted to the decommissioning of damaged nuclear facilities.

“The aim is to enhance measures to ensure the safe long-term management of spent fuel and nuclear waste from disused facilities,” he continued, noting that the IAEA was still in the process of compiling its “extensive report” on the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

He added that the agency continued to assist the Japanese Government in sharing information internationally and that a recent comparison of results of sea water analysis off Japan’s east coast, carried out by IAEA and Japanese laboratories, confirmed that data regularly reported by Japan give an accurate picture of the levels of radioactivity in near-shore coastal waters.

As for the DPRK, Mr. Amano said he remains “seriously concerned” about the country’s nuclear programme. “I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations, to cooperate promptly with the Agency, and to resolve all outstanding issues, including those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country.”

Turning to Iran, Mr. Amano said that while the IAEA continued to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, the agency was “not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities” in the country. As a result, he said, the IAEA remained unable to conclude that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

In addition, Mr. Amano told the Board that the agency remained ready to “accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues” under the Framework for Cooperation but still awaited certain clarifications from the Gulf country.

“Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures in the next step of the Framework for Cooperation, despite several requests from the agency,” he stated.

“I call upon Iran to increase its cooperation with the Agency and to provide timely access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel.”

Iran’s nuclear programme – which its officials have stated is for peaceful purposes, but some other countries contend is driven by military ambitions – has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Addressing this issue in a statement attributable to his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of the resumption of talks between the so-called P5+1 – composed of the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany – and the Iranian Government and called on all participants “to demonstrate the necessary flexibility, wisdom and determination to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.”

“The Secretary-General hopes that reaching a mutually-acceptable and comprehensive agreement will restore confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme,” declared the statement.

“He is convinced that such an accord can contribute to the strengthening of regional and international peace and security at a time when global cooperation is needed perhaps more than ever.”