Ban Ki-Moon, former secretary general of the United Nations. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
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Known for his peaceful demeanor, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed anger Friday at President Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.
Ban cited youth activists Greta Thunberg and Severn Cullis-Suzuki as his inspiration, and like them, he called for changes in individual lifestyles and the world’s economic system.
“I cannot but express my deepest regret and even anger about what President Trump has decided to withdraw from this Paris climate change agreement,” Ban said at a forum hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.
The United States was “the champion” under President Obama, Ban said, in mobilizing a sense of unity and bringing reluctant nations like China and India to the table—“and that is the reason why we now have this Paris Agreement.”
Trump’s withdrawal is not just politically short sighted, Ban said, but scientifically wrong and morally irresponsible.
“Even economically, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Having served as secretary general from 2007 to 2016, Ban now chairs the Global Green Growth Institute, which promotes a marriage of environmental sustainability and economic growth. Thunberg has criticized such initiatives:
“This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth,” she said during her U.S. visit in September. “This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”
Nonetheless, Ban cited Thunberg and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who was 12 when she spoke out at the UN Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992, as the inspiration for the new urgency in his tone.
“I got inspiration from Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old girl. I saw her speaking out in front of 150 heads of state and government at the United Nations. She was speaking out: ‘Look, because of your empty words my future, my dreams were taken away. I will not forgive you. I will not forgive you.’ This is what she was saying.”
And like Thunberg, Ban called for changes in lifestyles and economics away from consumption. People have been abusing the privilege of nature, he said.
“Dealing with climate change also includes adapting to a new way of life. The warming planet means that we can no longer maintain the way we live, the way we work, the way we consume, and the way we produce. We have to change our behavioral pattern. It’s not only industries where they emit the greenhouse gas emissions. It’s from our own lives, lifestyles. We also create a lot of problems.”
The question of how to change lifestyles was fielded by Ban’s co-presenter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, now chair of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, who suggested three categories of change:
1. “The first step is to make climate change—the climate crisis, I don’t even talk about climate change anymore—the climate crisis, the climate emergency, personal in your own life… which means you’re going to do something you weren’t doing before, and I give the example I’ve become a pescatarian. I’ve given up meat about a year and a half ago.
2. “The second step is to get angry and get active get angry about those with more responsibility who aren’t meeting their responsibilities, and get active supporting those who are on the right side of this—on conservation, on advocacy, on all the things that can be done.
3. “And the third thing—and actually this is the most important—we have to imagine this world that we need to be hurrying towards. Because as we’ve heard—we’ve both been saying this—we have 10 years, you know, we have to be in a much different place. We have to have a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030. That’s a very short time, so that’s why Greta Thunberg is so frustrated in Davos. She says there’s lots of talk, but there’s no action. We’re not seeing that bend at the curve but in order to get a sense of intuitiveness about it, we have to imagine this world. It would be a much healthier world.”
Watch Ban Ki-Moon and Mary Robinson speak at Brookings: