Ban Ki-moon way ahead in U.N. race to replace himself

8 June 2011

Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2011, E&E Publishing, LLC.

Former South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon would like to lead the United Nations for another five years. And it's almost certain that he'll get what he wants.

His reappointment request became official yesterday after the U.N. secretary-general stated clearly that he would like to serve for a second term and requested that a bloc of 53 Asian nations support his campaign.

It will prove to be a very brief and uncontested election contest. Asian governments immediately granted his wish, nominating him for another five-year term, to close at the end of December 2016. And the U.N. Security Council discussed the timing of the vote later that same afternoon, which will involve a procedural recommendation to the General Assembly.

The General Assembly is planning to make it fully official later this month, but all involved agree that that body will simply rubber-stamp what the Security Council decides. With no challengers for the job, all that Ban needs to win is acceptance of all five permanent council members, something reports say he attained earlier this year.

"It has been an enormous privilege to lead this great organization," Ban told the press shortly after the breakfast meeting with Asian governments' ambassadors. "If supported by the member states, I would be deeply honored to serve once more."

Ban has attracted harsh criticism for an allegedly lackluster first term in office. Human rights groups have condemned him for diplomatic blunders in Burma and Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch criticized him for being one of the few prominent world leaders who did not congratulate Liu Xiaobo, a political prisoner in China who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. He further enraged critics when he didn't press for Liu's release during a visit to China.

He has also come under attack for his seeming disinterest in reforming the organization. A former top U.N. official has stated publicly that Ban has hindered efforts to investigate corruption among U.N. officials, and an ex-Norwegian diplomat said in a leaked cable that an "invisible" Ban Ki-moon "has to a large extent placed the U.N. on the sidelines."

A campaigner for climate change policy 

But reactions to his record on climate change have thus far been mixed. Upon assuming office in January 2007, Ban surprised many when he declared that climate change would be among his top priorities, alongside the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. He subsequently hosted two high-level climate change summits at U.N. headquarters in New York, the final one just ahead of the Copenhagen, Denmark, climate talks.

He pressed hard for nations to complete a new international climate change treaty by the end of 2009. Instead, governments only agreed to "take note" of a list of separate national commitments spelled out in the Copenhagen Accord, which also promised billions of dollars in new climate change-related aid to poor countries.

Ban later took flak for his interpretation of the Copenhagen negotiating round, declaring in a late December 2009 press conference that the talks were a resounding success when news reports showed that negotiations there almost collapsed. Ban called the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiating round "a significant achievement" although several observers and diplomats deemed it a failure.

Richard Gowan, associate director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, said much of the criticism of Ban's handling of the climate change issue is misguided.

"He genuinely cares about the issue and believes that he will be harming both the U.N. and broader climate diplomacy if he lets it drop," Gowan said. "But the blunt reality is that the U.N.'s ability to craft a binding deal on climate change rests on Chinese and U.S. decisionmaking, not the efforts of the SG [secretary-general]."

Ban himself strongly defended his record on climate change and his efforts to nudge governments toward replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which will come to an end in December 2012 if no new compliance period is adopted.

'Most important priority for human beings'

"We have made good progress, starting in Bali [Indonesia] by adopting the Bali road map, going through Copenhagen, and in Cancun [Mexico] last year, we set quite a good framework," Ban said. "I will spare no efforts if I am re-elected as secretary-general. This is the most important priority for human beings."

Evan Juska, Head of US policy at The Climate Group, said that Ban deserves another five-year shot at tackling climate change, even if the U.N. member states have tripped him up on that front.

"Some might point to COP 15 as a blemish on his climate record, but the factors that ultimately led to the Copenhagen outcome... were in place well before he took office," Juska said. "Another term from Ban Ki-moon won't change the political dynamics that have hampered the [U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] negotiations. But it would provide him the opportunity to build on the progress made in Cancun and to continue to incorporate climate change into the broader development agenda, creating progress outside the UNFCCC, as well."

Following UNFCCC negotiations in Cancun, Ban took the decision to play a less direct role in the climate talks, taking them off the list of his top priorities. His staff said that the U.N. chief will instead advocate for action on climate change as being important for sustainable development in general.

Ban admitted as much in remarks to reporters yesterday. He said climate change will be among the issues he will discuss at next year's global environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, dubbed "Rio+20."

"We have to make Rio+20 a success, covering all the issues, starting from climate change, water scarcity, energy scarcity, and food security issues and global health issues," he said. "That's my vision for climate change and sustainable development."

Although Ban's staff says that he would still like nations to conclude a follow-on treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, they also acknowledged that he will no longer be pressing forcefully for that goal.
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