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At the UN, the Waves of Bush and Sarko at Mr. Ban's Stakeout, Of Blogs and Carbon Offsetting

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 24, updated Sept. 26 -- On the day of its "High Level Event on Climate Change," the UN was full of press for the first time in a while. Conference Room 1 in the basement was turned into a media center, with four screens on the wall and the wireless Internet working slowly, overtaxed. A group of generally pro-UN bloggers, brought in by the UN Foundation, took photographs of the quaint "Smoke is Discouraged" signs. While President Bush dined with Ban Ki-moon, Han Duk-soo of South Korea, Lula, Merkel, Mbeki, Prodi and Sarkozi, a half dozen reporters took up positions in the Delegates' Entrance stakeout. Soon they were ushered out so that dogs could smell their equipment --- camera equipment, just to be clear.

            The trigger for paranoia soon became apparent: Bush rushed by with ten security guards. "Mr. President! What did you have to say on climate change?" A fast wave and he was gone. A "deux secondes?" tossed to Sarkozy who followed was met with hand signals by Sarko: gotta roll, or perhaps, running late. But soon, however, Ban Ki-moon himself came up to speak, to questions from only two reporters, including this one. Ban thanked Bush for his support. Video here. And in total garbage time, Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper stopped, for the same two reporters, and thought carefully and out loud how to summarize without implicating the comments of others. Just up the stairs earlier this month, Canada cast one of only four votes against the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

            Attempting to find the origins of the pro-UN bloggers invite, it was emphasized to Inner City Press that the idea pre-dated the June 2007 meeting in Madrid of the UN Communications Group, at which increased scrutiny on bloggers was discussed. Rather, the idea for these invites was born in a discussion, for which no date has been provided, between the UN Foundation's Katherine Miller and Stephane Dujarric, now Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Communications Director. A point, which we hope to further explore once the hype of the General Debate dies down, is that support the principles of the UN sometimes requires being critical, and pushing to ensure that reforms like the UN Ethics Office covering the whole UN system, and not just parts of it, are actually implemented. Transparency is also good, including the access given to the UN Foundation, particularly to the 38th floor. And the UN's openness to new media is to be judged on how it treats not only bloggers on the inside-track, who do not (need to) ask questions, but others.

   As it happens, the UN Foundation's inviting of bloggers is promoted, in the UN Foundation's press release, as evidence that "the UN is further demonstrating its openness, transparency, and understanding of the new ways in which people are communicating all over the world." Uh, thou dost protest too much. How this UN Administration, as opposed to the last, is to be judged in terms of transparency and openness, including to bloggers, will be based on actions day to day, after the General Debate, and with regard to bloggers the UN Administration does not necessarily like.

   But these are topics for another (less hectic) day. Click here for Inner City Press' more substantive story on the day's Climate Change Event.

Gore, Ban and flags: UN Foundation and invited bloggers not shown

            Also announced on Monday at the noon briefing -- better late than never -- was that

The UN will substantially offset the carbon emissions caused by today's High-Level Event on Climate Change, which is estimated at about 500 tons of carbon dioxide.  These carbon emissions are primarily from the energy use for the meeting, the travel of UN staff involved in the organization of the meeting, special invitees and speakers, and Heads of State and Government and ministers who have come to New York only for the High-Level Event. The carbon emissions from the Event will be offset by a small-scale hydroelectric project located in Intibuca, Honduras, near the city of La Esperanza.  In addition to providing power stability to the electric grid in the area, this high quality renewable energy project provides significant local social and environmental benefits, such as rural electrification and reduced dependency on fuel wood, increased employment of local people, and improvement of the watershed through reforestation. The effort to offset the carbon footprint of today’s Event, which will cost $15,800, is supported by the UN Foundation.

            When Inner City Press asked on September 22, Yvo de Boer read out a note that Member States would be expected to do their own carbon offsetting. By September 24, included in the UN Foundation's check-writing were " Heads of State and Government and ministers who have come to New York only for the High-Level Event." Most heads of state who came Monday will presumably stay it deliver their country's speech before the General Assembly. These start Tuesday at 9 a.m., Brazil's Lula and then Bush, and later the President of Iran. Last year, a complaint was raised by Venezuela about the airport and visa practices of the U.S., the "Host Country."  But at Monday's noon briefing, the GA president's spokesman said, "Matthew is not here, but he was asking about complaints received for the Host Country Committee.  No complaints were received." Whether or not that remains true, what can be said is that Monday was the rare day when the Spokesperson for the Secretary General was not asked to answer any questions at noon. [The last one we're aware of was when Annan's spokesman joked, "That's called pitching a shutout," or perhaps he said "no hitter."] So where, we ask, were the "bloggers" invited by the UN (Foundation)? If a blogger is invited to the UN and does not ask a question, is this the sound of one hand clapping?

In fairness, and in solidarity, a sampling:

Grist on being invited to a UN Foundation event with UNEP for bloggers (at least, those the UN Foundation brought in) - here

FP - Passport roundup

Boing Boing Gadgets (including the quote "'How do we tell who is legit and who is a looney?' asked Stephane Dujarric, Deputy Communications Director, Office of the Secretary General," see above)

Roundup by Maxim's News (disclosing UN Foundation funding)

Roundup by UN Dispatch (natch -- in full disclosure, this correspondent does with UND's MLG, who was "in the House" on Monday).

Watch, or listen to, this space.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540