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mandate of action for climate change by Kofi Annan

One unique opportunity available as a student at Columbia is the frequent visitation of world leaders, particularly around the time that the UN general assembly meets. A visitation this year was by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN. Although terse, these notes are a brief sketch of what he discussed at Columbia. Two interesting differences from previous visiting guests was that (1) his talk was tailored in many places to speak to the community of students and faculty members here and (2) in an effort to incite activism, he came with his own rock video to be released for download on October first as a new-media form of political petition. As only a passive participant in blogging and the online social community, I can only wish that more people were interested in at least learning more about this movement instead of the latest hollywood flub.

Annan Summary Annan Introduction
Speech snippit...

Gabriel Silver Memorial Lecture with Kofi Annan


  • Topic: global climate change
    • Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 12:00 pm, Rotunda, Low Memorial Library
  • acceptance of position as a global fellow at Columbia
    • rooted from one of the first members, Eisenhower, appointed before serving as president
    • spoke towards equality and freedom in each country
    • sense of global community, achieved at Columbia is one that is addressed today
  • climate change is not the only threat: conflict, famine, disease, poverty -- each will worsen with climate change
    • famine will increase as water resources are used, rise of sea levels, and the acceleration of disease
    • more work is needed, not only through humanitarian reports, but also direct change to avoid some impacts that are at a much faster pace than predicted
    • report issued this summer documented impact on thousands in poorest nations

political change is required

  • urge leaders of g20 to catalyze movement; they are responsible for the majority of greenhouse emissions
    • agreement about impact of gasses thus far has not lead to needed political momentum
    • post 2012 agreement must be poignant and binding
    • those that are most threatened live in poor countries in asia, africa, or small island states but have contributed less than 2% of the emissions -- current requirements cut by 19% by 2050
    • more aggressive and needed goal is to cut by at least 25% by 2040
  • other countries feel that economic opportuniteis must not be threatened - correct, but must still abide by reductions
    • fairness dictates that rules should apply to all (i.e. bicycles should not make up for SUV drivers)
  • least developed countries deserve incentives for any reduction that can provide through green land use, reforestation, etc
    • need additional funds as well as transfer of resources and low-carbon technologies

financial requirements

  • issues that still need to be resolved include cost of adaptation and going forward -- sums so far are no where near enough
    • cost of climate change in Africa will raise from 30 billion in 2013, rising to 50-100 Billion through 2020
  • funds may come from pricing carbon not only to provide funds but provide a real reason to reduce consumption and production
  • need leaders to put aside narrow national interests and focus on long-term well-being of future generations
    • US will need to be the leader (China has overtaken the country as a whole) but per-capita is 4x China and 2x Europe
    • Agrees that Obama needs to take change now, but can not if stopped at home by populous

leadership is required in many places

  • leadership is not confined to politics alone, must also come from business aspects
    • both in minimization and investment in technologies abroad; many advances here will help to combat changes in the future
  • the academic world can also lead by brining different disciplines together
    • not only bridging different disciplines, but also through social opportunities to utilize climate change opportunities
    • join the 'tik tok global campaign for climate justice' that raises awareness and fair debate in Copenhagen

problems to be overcome

  • striking comments by Eisenhower was his optimism
  • believe if community can come together, it can provide a new page for international cooperation and understanding
    • currently students are first generation to consider themselves 'citizen of the world'

questions from the audience

  • regarding economy, africa must decrease birth rate to achieve economic development in conflict to Pope's claim of decreasing birth rate
    • climate change is still making this more difficult (drought, food production , floods, spread of diseases)
    • certainly some countries (like Zimbabwe), the lifespan has dropped by more than 10 years, loosing farmers, doctor, and teacher indicating a loss of the present as well as the future
    • measure are being taken both by the government and foreign firms; example is 'green revolution for africa'
  • what is the most effective way for students to raise awareness
    • network and work with friends in groups that work on climate change; set examples yourself
    • generally work to push issue higher in the political agenda
    • showing that progress has been made, science is no longer questioned
  • view of US as a leader in climate change
    • world reaction to Obama's election was very favorable and positive; often considered it a part of the world's election
    • this issue goes beyond Obama though because it indicates that US and industrialized countries must lead...
      • if largest polluters continue to do so, developing countries will feel it is also there right as they grow
  • thoughts on efforts in Africa for leaders to be more accountable to their people in terms of dollars given
    • see development of society that is trying to keep government responsible; impressed with civil societies that have developed, but more is needed
    • people are demanding transparency, fighting in committee, and want honest security forces -- but this progress is also from students coming to the US and others that have gone back to affect change
  • Nigerian genocide impact -- why did you not take that moment to stop the violence?
    • must understand that UN has several forms: the UN in general assembly (pass mandates, etc) and secretariat (implements mandates)
    • in the case of Rwanda, at this time, international community was withdrawing form Somalia... once US withdrew, other industrialized countries followed suit (removing the best trained and best militarized)
    • set the precedent that troops were not available; Clinton apologized, other governments apologized....
      • but when violence was discovered, a few soldiers were killed and other armies pulled out, largely following US examples
    • in this situation, the UN failed; not for just the secretary but the entire community -- problem is that response is only made once the problem has erupted, specifically, there is no standing army
      • example is currently impact in Darfour, needed only 18 helicopters for 2 years, but none were given internationally
  • anything that university can do to help students get involved?
    • often asked 'what should young people do to become good global citizens' -- answer is to organize and take it on, even small problems
    • at university level there are other students and professors to help, but initiative must often be taken by the individual
    • problem perhaps more true in developing countries is that after receiving an education, some people have no link to the needs of their society -- perhaps vocational training schools would be a better answer
      • problem also with parents who prefer a degree over practical experience for a country
      • could also encourage this opportunity in a university by asking for a course

final addition -- a video for climate change

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