UN secretary-general speaks of climate change, Syrian conflict during campus visit


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is thanked for his visit by SIU President Randy Dunn after delivering his final public lecture while in office Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, at the Student Center. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Bill Lukitsch

Outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke Wednesday at SIU of global unity to further humanitarian and renewable energy interests, two hallmarks of his diplomatic career as head of the U.N.

The secretary-general was greeted in the Student Center ballrooms with a standing ovation from hundreds of spectators as he made his final public lecture before leaving office.

The campus visit came 10 days before António Guterres, the next secretary-general and a former prime minister of Portugal, prepares to take over the role Jan. 1.


Ban noted it is the first time in the 70-year history of the U.N. that its change in leadership coincides with the appointment of a U.S. president. The secretary-general referenced what he called a time of complicated challenges for the U.N., mounting in the face of entrenched political polarization.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waves to the crowd before delivering his final public lecture while in office Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, at the Student Center. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

“Even in peacetime, basic human decency often seems in short supply as people look and talk past each other,” Ban said.

Ban described his 10 years as the world’s most powerful diplomat as a period of turmoil, referencing the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression and the largest need for humanitarian aid since World War II.

More: Watch the secretary-general’s speech here.

The refugee crisis in war-torn Syria was one of Ban’s main talking points, as he described increased trouble in effecting a diplomatic solution for the millions of people displaced during the conflict.

He reiterated a statement he made days earlier, calling the city of Aleppo, Syria, “a synonym to hell.”

“I continue to stress that there is no military solution,” Ban said. “Military success in Aleppo today will not mean peace tomorrow without a political settlement and justice for the crimes this war has witnessed.”


Anna Spoerre
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sits in front of a large crowd gathered for his last public speech while in office Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in the Student Center ballrooms. The diplomate was elected head of the U.N. in 2007. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

A longtime proponent of sustainable and renewable energy, Ban was influential in the Paris agreement on climate change, a deal struck among the world’s developed nations to further the advancement of renewable energy and cap greenhouse gas emissions across the globe.

He went on to stress the importance of global unification on the issue of climate change, and expressed optimism regarding the direction large businesses have taken in the past year.

“We are striving to make a crucial economic and environmental transition to a safer, more sustainable path of development in order to make peace with the planet and ensure prosperity for people,” Ban said.

Although he did not mention by name President-elect Donald Trump, or any specific officeholders of any political party affiliation, Ban called upon citizens to set partisan ideological differences aside and hold elected officials accountable to uphold the agreement.

Meanwhile, the president-elect has repeatedly questioned the scientific validity of climate change and during his campaign promised to cancel the deal struck in Paris one year ago. He has also said emissions restrictions are not business-friendly and vowed to increase the level of fossil fuel production and consumption in the country.

Top cabinet positions have been awarded to climate change deniers and skeptics in the weeks following his election, as Trump prepares to assume his position in the White House after Jan. 20.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shakes hands with interim Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director Jak Tichenor following his final public lecture while in office Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, at the Student Center. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

The speaking event on Wednesday was organized through the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in coordination with the chancellor’s office.

Also announced during the reception of the secretary-general was a new partnership between the university and the U.N. through the United Nations Academic Impact program.

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell announced the new initiative during introductory remarks, attributing the partnership to an enhanced symbol of the university’s diverse student population.

“We are extremely proud to enroll students from more than 100 countries each year,” Colwell said.

Anna Spoerre
Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell speaks with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the diplomate’s last public speech while in office Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in the Student Center ballrooms. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

During his speech, Ban talked of inspirational past presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, connecting them to the beginning of his political career with the U.N., which dates back to 1975. Ban and his wife planned to travel to Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum after Wednesday’s visit to SIU.

The secretary-general described his 10 remaining days in office as a countdown to when he once again becomes a private citizen.

He also gave an early congratulations to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s 20th anniversary, which comes next year, describing the late Paul Simon — known for his 1988 run for the Democratic presidential nomination — as an admirable political figure of southern Illinois.

“I can tell you, he sounds like my kind of guy,” Ban said of the late senator from Makanda who traveled to more than 100 countries during his political career. “But of course what is most important is not the number of countries you have visited, but the distance one goes to help people in need for humanity.”

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at 618-536-3326 or at [email protected].

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