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At the UN, Ban Envoy Lagos' Climate Change Record Questioned, Palm Oil Promoted

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 8 -- Whether called global warming or climate change, the UN has got religion... or has it?

   Among Ban Ki-moon's three new envoys on the issue is the former president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos Escobar. Environmental groups in Chile protested that Lagos' record while in power, from 2000 to 2006, is indicative of pollution and corporate control. They point for example to Lagos' role in approving, and accepting funding from, the Angellini Group for its Celso wood pulp plant, which fouled the Cruces River.

            Tuesday at the UN, Inner City Press asked Lagos to address these concerns. In a four-minute answer, Lagos began by noting that he had, after all, been elected. "At the end of the day, it is up to citizens to say what is the record of the government," he said. So would any person who's been elected qualify as a UN environmental envoy?

            Lagos went on to emphasize how he had "handled dams" while taking care of the people displaced from the now "irrigated" lands. "I am not here because I was very good [on the] environment," he said.  Video here, from Minute 19 to 23:10.

            Many UN observers remember Lagos not for anything to do with the environment, but as a skeptic of the Security Council's Iraq resolutions. Lagos emphasized his diplomatic, not environmental, credentials. The Secretary-General wanted a political leader to address a "political problem, not a technical problem," Lagos said.

Mr. Ban & his envoys

            The credentials of other two envoys were not questioned during the press briefing. The former Prime Minister of Norway, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, is sometimes described as a founder, or at least coiner, of sustainable development, and as an early follower of Buckminster Fuller. Even a support, however, interviewed by Inner City Press on condition of anonymity, wondered whether there has been backsliding.

            Doctor Han Seung-soo's appointment is viewed through the prism of his role as former Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, and thus as Bank Ki-moon's ex-boss. He did, however, serve as president of the Korea Water Forum, and in the hall outside the briefing room he told Inner City Press that he will have a role on "water and sanitation," and he nodded at a mention of Monday's UNICEF-sponsored conference on 2008 as the "Year of Sanitation."  Whether these envoys can take the UN Secretariat's role in combating climate change beyond buzzwords remains to be seen.

            Also at the UN on Tuesday, a report on bio-fuels was released, click here to view. In the accompanying briefing, involving UN-Energy's Mats Karlsson and Gustavo Best and Alexander Muller of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, Inner City Press asked about the environmental impacts of palm oil production replacing rainforest and other uses in Indonesia and Malaysia, for example. Video here. The report's proponents said that "every country is different," and declined to address the specifics of these two bio-fuel producers. "We need a framework," they said. Yes, we do...

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