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On Climate Change, UN's Africa Project Triggers Complaint Which UNDP Refuses to Address

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 23 -- While Ban Ki-moon in his nearly nine months as Secretary-General of the UN has put more focus on global warming than nearly anyone expected, when one drills slightly deeper down into the UN's activities on climate change, contradictions become apparent. At the UN Development Program on September 21, for example, UNDP's Olav Kjorven purported to take questions from interested UN correspondents about his agency's activities. After a slew of generalities, and after other reporters had posed two or three questions each, Inner City Press asked about the whistleblower complaint filed against UNDP by Mattieu Koumoin, who alleges that funds he help raised to combat global warming in Africa were ordered by UNDP to be diverted to companies in France and Canada.

            "What is the question?" Mr. Kjorven demanded.

            While what the UN might want to address about a global warming funding scandal, three days before Mr. Ban's climate change summit, seemed obvious, Inner City Press specified that it would be good to know what the UNDP project was, and what the response to Mr. Koumoin's complaint is.

            "It is outside my responsibility to deal with that issue," said Mr. Kjorven, who as head of UNDP's Bureau of Development Policy is a member of Ban's Climate Change Team.

            "But did you know Mr. Koumoin?"

            Mr. Kjorven said that he did, and that Koumoin "was unhappy with a decision, it is now in the hands of another part of the system."

            But Koumoin's request for review and protection against retaliation, filed with Robert Benson of Ban's Ethics Office, was left unacted on by Mr. Benson last week, because Koumoin has also complained within UNDP. Mr. Benson had previously ruled that UNDP has no effective policy against retaliation. So which "hand of the UN system" is this climate change-related scandal in?

Olav Kjorven at UN, Millennium Development Goals half-shown

     Of a "climate change partnership" UNDP loudly announced three and a half months ago with the financial services firm Fortis, Mr. Kjorven said that while no results could yet be announced, "we get a good price, but I can't disclose it." Not only lack of transparency, but also procurement, appear on reflection to be under Kjorven's control. At a September 12 UNDP "town hall" meeting, characterized by some staff as little more than propaganda, UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert said that Kjorven "is working with a group of people on resource management to include the greening dimensions of UNDP and to incorporate them into our procurement process." Using funds meant for Africa to procure services in Canada and Europe seems a strange way to do this. Mr. Kjorven, a Norwegian, also mentioned funding from Norway, in this briefing held in UNDP's light-wooded "Norway Room." The quid pro quo between funding and hiring at the UN is another area too rarely disclosed.

            Inner City Press also asked about UNDP's involvement in diamond mining -- and allegedly smuggling -- in Zimbabwe.  That's enough, UNDP's Ben Craft cut in, stating that the questions had to remain tied to climate change. Another reporter said that "mining of connect to climate change," but to no avail. Questions were then taken on tourism, peacekeeping and a variety of topics over which UNDP has -- thankfully, Mr. Kjorven appeared to feel -- no responsibility. Inner City Press requested, and Mr. Craft appeared to agree to seek to by today disclose details about the investigation into the Zimbabwe project which UNDP's David Morrison months ago promised to provide.

            This is the new era of accountability at the UN?  While this dodging is largely the responsibility of UNDP, spreading from its Administrator Kemal Dervis on down, it seems fair to hold the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General responsibility for ensuring at least some follow-up on commitments made by UN funds and programs spokespeople in Ban's briefing room. An Assistant Secretary-General and former government minister like Olav Kjorven should have been able to answer, or ensured responses were provided, to pertinent questions within the very field he was briefing about. More pressingly, the responsibility to provide a credible structure to investigate claims and protect against retaliation lies ultimately with the Secretary-General.

[Mr. Koumoin has now also filed a complaint with the World Bank in Washington D.C., on which we will have more to report.]

            On the science of global warming, Inner City Press on Saturday asked Yvo De Boer of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who also added that "oil and coal are here to stay." Inner City Press asked de Boer and Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change to address reports that a single coal-fired plant will negate the impact, for example, of California's plan to require new cars to reduce emissions by 25% in 2009.

            "Combating climate change is not a war on oil, and is not a war on coal," said Mr. de Boer. He spoke of China and India both having coal and "economic growth goals" that means that coal is here to stay. Dr. Pachauri said one shouldn't "minimize the importance of behavioral changes," and that these don't mean "going back to the Stone Age." As an example, he mentioned shifting to public transportation. Inner City Press asked him to clarify a statement in Australia last month, that government's should do economic analysis before setting emission reductions goals. "That was totally misreported," Dr. Pachauri said. His statement against "political and emotional responses" referred to claiming that environmentalism "will cost jobs," not to those who say climate change is the largest problem. De Boer chimed in that national assessments should including the savings brought on by reducing energy use, and not only the costs. Video here, from Minute 40:20.

            On the issue of offsetting the carbon emissions of the Summit, which Inner City Press has been asking Ban and his spokesperson for weeks -- "unexpected," Mr. Ban has called Inner City Press' question -- de Boer was handed a note. "We respect the position of member states," he said. "It's their responsibility to offset their own emissions. We in the UN are exploring what we can do to offset the carbon footprint of this conference." Video here, from Minute 22:04.

            Inner City Press asked when the exploration would be over, given that the conference is in two days' time. The spokesman said, "I believe before the conference begins we'll be able to be more definite about those details."

And the conference is beginning. We'll have an update article late in the day.

* * *

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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