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UN Cuts Down Dozen Trees by East River, ICP Asked Why, Disease Reply

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 10 -- In the UN garden facing the East River over the weekend more than a dozen trees were killed. Inner City Press was alerted by UN staff and went to check it out. There were jagged tree stumps extending north from the UN Conference building. Video here.

    Why would the UN cut down these trees, particularly while in Paris Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks on climate change and the importance of maintaining trees?

While the Temporary North Lawn building is to be demolished by the end of the year, the trees cut down are not connected to that. What is the UN's excuse? We and the Free UN Coalition for Access asked on December 8, video here, transcript below. And two days later, the UN returned with this, read-out by Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq on December 10, transcript here:

"I was also asked a few days ago about the cutting down of trees near the North Lawn Building.

I can announce today that the demolition of the temporary North Lawn Building has begun, following a General Assembly mandate that the building be removed after the completion of the renovation of the UN Headquarters under the Capital Master Plan.

Since 2010, the North Lawn Building first hosted conference facilities and the Secretary-General with his Executive Office.  Later, it accommodated the General Assembly during the sixty-eighth session.  Most recently, the building served as the hub for the Headquarters Deployment Group for the implementation of the Umoja system.

The North Lawn Building will now be dismantled and recycled.  By September 2016, the original landscaping of the North Lawn will be restored.  The refurbished sculptures will be returned to their former locations and new trees will be planted for the ones that had to be taken down after construction started, in 2008.

And, as for the recent trees, the honey locust trees that were removed this past weekend will all be replaced with mature trees of the same species.  Regrettably, the trees, which were nearing the end of their natural lifespan, were diseased.""

 We'll have more on this.


 From the UN's December 8, 2015 transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you, in the area just between, I guess you could say, the conference building and the temporary North Lawn Building, there were about a dozen or more trees that were… were unceremoniously sawed down over the weekend, not only against the wall, but the whole ivy-covered region between one and the other.  So a number people have said it's pretty abrupt.  It's the kind of thing that, like… at least in… and the rest of New York City requires an environmental impact statement.  Why were they torn down?  And what's the… how is it consistent with the various environmental statements made by the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, whenever we have any sort of activities reorganising at the site, which entails things like the chopping of trees, we try to make sure that we also then do some sort of seed planting to make sure that everything is done sustainably.  So we would do that in this case.  I don't have anything specific about…

Inner City Press:  There's like 24 stumps.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything specific about this.  It's probably part of the regular maintenance that's done. 

Inner City Press:  I have another question.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, sorry, it's time for our guest.  Let me get to Adama Dieng.  He's been waiting.

Inner City Press:  AIDS-Free World said it's an all-male panel on Human Rights Day.  What's your response?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm sorry, all-male panel?

Inner City Press:  AIDS-Free World says in an open letter to the Secretary-General…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, on that, we tried to have other guests for… who are women for the Human Rights Day panel, but some of them were not able to attend at the last moment.  Thanks.


Back on November 20 in the run-up the the climate change talks in Paris, Inner City Press asked UN official Janos Pasztor if commitments on adaptation funding will be increased, about corporations making sometimes dubious pledges in connection with CoP21 and specifically about requests that the Green Climate Fund not accredit HSBC or Credit Agricole, given their track records.

  Pasztor earnestly answered the questions, though he said he was unaware of the request to the GCF about the two banks (see here); he also said that while the march planned in Paris for November 29 has been canceled by the government, marches can be held elsewhere - in other countries.

   Agence France Presse, before other journalists got even one question, cut in with repeated “follow-ups.” France is branding CoP21, while now limited civil society participation - except for corporations.

  Relatedly, when the UNFCCC held a press conference in Bonn earlier in the week, the corporate media in the room had no questions, then few questions. But the selection of questions submitted by social media trended toward Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Climate Group; press questions submitted by Twitter and email were never answered. We'll have more on this.

On October 13 Inner City Press asked Pasztor about criticism of the OECD's claims about developed countries' progress toward $100 billion in 2020, and about the IMF's or Christine Lagarde's call for a carbon tax. Video here.

  Pasztor replied that at the meeting in Peru, finance ministers had raised questions about the OECD's methodology, which he said the OECD Secretary General had responded to. He called Lagarde's proposals “an important way that countries can address this issue.”

  Back on September 21 the 2015 Equator Prize winners were announced at a UN press conference featuring Alec Baldwin and Hilaria Baldwin, UNDP's Helen Clark and UNFCCC's Christiana Figueres, about whose 3 degree Celsius prediction Inner City Press asked last week.

 Inner City Press asked Figueres about her fellow UN official Janos Pasztor's prediction that current Intended Nationally Determined Contributions would equate to 3.5 degrees. She did not disagree; UNDP's Helen Clark said the INDCs are not ambitious enough yet. 

  Given UNDP's direct work with governments, Inner City Press asked Helen Clark about, for example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo being accuses of going soft on illegal logging, for example on Lebanese-owned firm Cotrefor. Video here.

  Alec Baldwin cited Canadian tar sands, and also ExxonMobil (earlier on September 21, Inner City Press asked about BNP Paribas funding coal power plants). Climate Week began...

  Inner City Press on September 17 asked UN's Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change Janos Pasztor whether INDCs to date would raised temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius, as Christiana Figueres has said, or 2.5 degree as the Guardian has an unnamed UK official saying.
Video here.

  Pasztor's answer to Inner City Press included "3.5 degrees;" Figueres' spokesperson chimes in this is the difference between frying and cooking. But who was the Guardian's anonymous "merely warming" source?

  Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, spoke about financing issues, on which Inner City Press asked about how to count if the $100 billion goal is reached by 2020.

Back on August 11 after the climate change announcement of Australia, Inner City Press on August 11 asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it, video here, transcript here:

Inner City Press: in the statement about the countries coming out with their climate change targets, Australia came out with one.  It's sort of become a touchstone, many people are saying there's no way it would lead to 2°C…

Spokesman Dujarric:  First of all, we very much welcome countries that issue their INDC.  It's an important step, and we very much hope that all Member States will do so.  They really need to be seen as a floor and not a ceiling.  They're a starting point.  There will be discussions prior to Paris.  There will, obviously, be discussions in Paris.  People are free to, obviously, express their opinion on certain countries' INDCs, but for our part, we're glad we have them, and we do see them as a starting point in the discussions.

Back on June 18 when the UN gave a climate change briefing by UNDP's Cassie Flynn, and Jo Scheuer, on June 18 Inner City Press asked about the under-funding of the Least Development Countries Fund, and if South Korea is backsliding in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. Video here.

  The answers, on film, were to promote other funding vehicles, and to say that South Korea has still yet to file its INDC.

Back on June 4 the UN's Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change Janos Pasztor held a press conference and Inner City Press asked him about unspent funds at the Clean Development Mechanism in Bonn, and about reported backsliding by South Korea on its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions on greenhouse gas reduction.

  Pasztor said that the CDM is still needed; he said country have committed not to backslide. Video here. (South Korea had yet to submit its INDCs, it seems). Inner City Press asked Pasztor to provide a comment, if he has one, once South Korea's filing is made.

Back on May 5, Inner City Press asked him about criticism of the Green Climate Fund, including at the recent Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Video here and embedded below.

  Specifically, why will the "Green" Climate Fund provide financial for coal-powered plants? Pasztor replied that some felt that an exclusion for coal would have been divisive. On statements at the PFII that the UN is helping to "monetize" nature, Pasztor replied that most states feel differently. But what about the indigenous?
  Pasztor in his opening statement had praised the UN Pension Fund for now investing in "green equities" and "green bonds." Since the UN has responded to Press questions about irregularities alleged at the Pension Fund by emphasizing how separate and independent it is, Inner City Press asked Pazstor if the UN Secretariat had brought about this Pension Fund decision.

 Pazstor replied that the Pension Fund answers to the Secretary General and that "she" - Carolyn Boykin, presumably - had made this decision. We'll have more on this, after noting Pasztor by no means the least responsive UN official...

 When last September 21 the People's Climate March assembled at Manhattan's Columbus Circle, there were anti-corporate puppets in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, speeches by coal miners and from the Marshall Islands.

   Many called on the UN to do better. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the march mid-way, at Radio City Musical Hall with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Senator Chuck Schumer was on hand, walking by a Bronx contingent chanting how Fresh Direct has broken its promises.

  Inner City Press' 90 second video of the march is here.

  The UN's or "BKM" (Ban Ki-moon) Climate Summit will feature Cargill and Walmart, Credit Agricole and Bank of America. The last of these is the first, in terms of funding mountain top coal removal. These are the contradiction. Inner City Press tweeted photos on @InnerCityPress. More to follow.

  The night before the People's Climate March, the UN buildings on First Avenue lit up with photos and footage of trees and fish and written messages. It is called "illUmiNations." Inner City Press video here.

   Inner City Press late on September 19, after covering the Ukraine, Iraq, Ebola and Iran nuclear meetings inside the UN, went out and found a sort of trial run for the screening taking place on First Avenue, already lined with NYPD cement blocks. Photo here.

   Looking back at the UN's press release for the upcoming "VIP Press Screening" -- hard to know how they could exclude non-VIPs from it, or why they would want to -- there were laudatory quotes about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and:

Obscura Digital has staged similar large-scale architectural mapping projection events on the Sydney Opera House, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. For examples of previous work, please visit the following link

 In that video compilation, well worth watching, there are also corporate projects for Coca-Cola and YouTube owned by Google, with history at the UN.

  A message Inner City Press photographed on September 19, here,  was "In nature's economy, the currency is not money but life." Is this true of Coca-Cola?

   There are questions about the UN's UNcritical approach to corporations and corporate "partnerships."

   In the run up to the UN's September 23 Climate Summit, the UN put out a media advisory promoting the participation of 14 corporations ranging from Saudi Aramco through Cargill, McDonald's and Walmart to Bank of America and Credit Agricole.

  Inner City Press on September 16 asked Summit promoter Robert Orr how these 14 were selected for listing in the media advisory, and if the UN had reviewed their wider record. For example, the recent court decision involving Cargill and child slavery in Cote d'Ivoire, or Saudi Aramco not allowing employees in Saudi Arabia to protest.

   Orr mentioned a luncheon during the summit about carbon pricing and the UN Global Compact, a branch of the UN which repeatedly says it does not enforce substantive standards, only encourages reporting and dialogue.  Well, Saudi Aramco did not respond to the complaint about “employees allegedly dismissed after being detained for participation in civil rights protests in Saudi Arabia.”

   And what of the environment? Bank of America has been the number one funder of mountain-top removal coal mining, but Ban Ki-moon made it chairman the chief of his Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

  On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, Inner City Press asked that those making commitments, like the 14 corporations named, hold question and answer sessions during the summit. We'll see.


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