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On Global Warming, UN's Ban Ki-moon Still Has Far to Travel, As September Summit Approaches

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 14 -- "There is one way from here to Khartoum, and it's to take a plane." So said the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when asked Tuesday by Inner City Press if Mr. Ban limits his air travel or engages in any carbon offsetting by investing in renewable energy and conservation projects.

            Unlike even the UN General Assembly president, who last month invested in greening projects in Kenya in order to offset the carbon emissions of UN headquarters and of travel for her global warming debate, Mr. Ban apparently has not yet seen or acted on the connection between air travel and global warming. "Those are two separate issues," his spokesperson said, while also promising to ask Mr. Ban for his views.

            At Heathrow Airport in the UK, protesters see the issues as directly linked. Even the UK government's advisor Nicholas Stern, who spoke at the General Assembly's debate on climate change, has warned of air travel's growing role in global warming. So where is Mr. Ban on the issue?

            Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson to comment on the climate camp at Heathrow. She said there would be no comment on the protest, but that Ban Ki-moon "is in favor of any group pushing for changes and better awareness of the dangers of gas emissions."  Yes, those emissions can be dangerous...

Ban waves at Damascus airport earlier this year, condensation trail not shown

            In the UN's own highlights of Tuesday's noon briefing, sent by email rather than put online due to the recent anti-war hacking of the UN's website (click here for that), the Q&A is summarized:

U.N. BODIES ANALYZING ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF AIR TRAVEL: Asked about the environmental damage caused by air travel, the Spokeswoman noted that the United Nations has a number of technical bodies that have studied the issue.

            Inner City Press has put in questions with the UN Environment Program and will report UNEP's responses upon receipt. At deadline, Ban's spokesperson's office answered the question, with reference to Ban's upcoming September 24 summit:

Subj: Answer to your question at noon 

From: unspokesperson [at]

To: [Matthew Russell Lee at]

Date: 8/14/2007 3:52:50 PM Eastern Standard Time

Regarding the 24 September climate change meeting, there are a number of proposals to offset the carbon footprint of the meeting that are being explored.  The options and the mechanics of this are being worked out.  We will provide details when we have them.

            And we'll be waiting. But in response to questions from Inner City Press on August 1, the spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly disclosed:

Q -- How much CO2 does the whole of the UN Secretariat emit per day based on total electricity consumption?  A --52,890 kgs of CO2

            GA president Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa's offsetting was not only for air travel, but also for the UN's own emissions. And what is Mr. Ban's plan? We'll see.

Here is the UN's transcript of the August 14 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: An environmental question.  Starting today, there's a protest outside Heathrow Airport saying that air travel is a major contributor to global warming, so I'm wondering if the Secretariat has any comment on that protest, or on the contribution of air travel to global warming, and if Ban Ki-moon -- as with a conference that took place here recently -- offsets the carbon emission from his travels by, I don't know, purchasing credits or in any other way? What's his position on air travel and global warming?

Spokesperson:  Well, as far as I know, there is only one way to go from here to Khartoum, and that is to take a plane.  If you can think of any other way, we will listen to the suggestions.  As far as...

Inner City Press: Well, there was just a meeting here where the President of the GA offset the whole emissions.  I mean, I don't know if he should do it or not, Iím just asking if he does do it.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General right now uses, of course, air travel.  As you know, the impact of air travel and other issues has been studied by the technical bodies that take care of global warming at the UN.  You have pretty thick reports on the contributing factors to global warming and gas emissions.  So these are two separate issues.  One is, does it contribute?  This you can find, I'm sure, within the technical branch of the UN dealing with global warming.  As for the Secretary-Generalís own position about air travel and what he should do to offset that, I will ask him.

Inner City Press: Thanks.  I'd really appreciate that.  One final thing -- maybe you could speak to this.  Given the importance he attaches to global warming, does he think that the protests like those at Heathrow are part of his same kind of movement on global warming, or does he see that as something different?  Does he think thatís part of the solution -- individuals trying to publicly protest what they view as...?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has no specific comment on the global warming protests at Heathrow.  What I can say is that he is in favor of any group pushing for change and for better awareness of the dangers of gas emission and climate change.


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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answerVideo Analysis here

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