With world leaders descending on New York for the United Nations General Assembly, a host of pressing global crises will likely plague talks.
Since the annual meeting last took place brutal wars in Iraq and Ukraine have engulfed the global stage.
To add to the challenges facing those assembled, will be the outbreak of Ebola gripping West Africa and the continued fighting in Syria.
As the world seeks to come to one table and find some common solutions, the UN’s eighth General-Secretary, Ban Ki-moon will play a pivotal role.
Halfway through his tenure in the post, the South Korean career diplomat is expected to champion climate change as one of the most pressing talking points. He has described the subject as “the defining issue of our time.”
Walking the walk, the UN General-Secretary joined hundreds of thousands of protesters in New York in a recent demonstration calling for action on the issue.
He is also hosting 120 heads of state and government for whats been dubbed a ‘political action forum’ on climate change.
The gathering plans to set out guidelines for further talks next year in Paris, where its hoped new targets will be agreed to help cut the emissions blamed for global warming.
But Ki-moon, in his second term as General-Secretary, may face substantial problems hammering out any meaningful deal, with leaders from China, India and Russia not in attendance.
euronews’ Isabelle Kumar sat down with Ban Ki-moon ahead of the dual summits and discussed everything from global terrorism to his personal role in the climate change debate.
The full transcript of this interview in the latest edition of our ‘Global Conversation’ series can be viewed below:
euronews: The world does seem quite a frightening place right now, at the heart of UN mandates is keeping peace and security, do you get the feeling that things are unraveling that they’re spiraling out of control?
Ban Ki-moon: The UN is in the lead in fighting all these challenges including, ISIL, terrorism and addressing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Of course there are many other situations in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, Somalia. It seems that we are living in a world of multiple crises but when the world is united, we can handle these crises. It’s good and encouraging that many world leaders are coming to the General Assembly of the UN. This is the right moment they should demonstrate their leadership. Unity of purpose is very important.
euronews: We asked our global, online audience to get involved in this interview and we’ve had hundreds of questions. We received this question from Dominik Gora who asks: Can you identify the single biggest threat at the moment?
Ban Ki-moon: This General Assembly has three most important crisis issues. First, ISIL terrorism, this is a threat to all humanity. We have to address this one together with a strong major unity and solidarity. Second, climate change, this is a defining issue of our time. We have to address this one to contain the global temperature rise below 2 degree centigrade. Otherwise, if we do not take action now, we will have to pay a much much heavier price and another one, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
These are the 3 most critical, important, serious crises which require urgent action and mobilising massive resources and political will, that’s why we are gathering here today.
euronews: US president Barack Obama said he can use the UN General Assembly to rally more people behind the cause of fighting Islamic State (IS). He says he wants to, quote, degrade and ultimately destroy this group. But do you think it’s actually possible to destroy a group like Islamic State?
Ban Ki-moon: We need concerted, wholehearted support and solidarity to address and tackle this terrorism, therefore we have to mobilise all resources. I appreciate President Obama and the leader of Western Europe like France, United Kingdom or Australia who are really willing to provide their means and of course there are many many others countries who are really willing to do that. If not, I’m afraid that this terrorist element will spread all around the world.euronews: Would you be prepared to negotiate, you’re the diplomat of diplomats, with Islamic State?
Ban Ki-moon: Now, we have seen the barbarity, tragic, unacceptable, unspeakable behavior by beheading or brutality. So we have to really first address this one. We have to show a strong will of the international community that we will never allow this terrorist element.
euronews: The strategy is so complicated when you face a group like IS. Are you still within your comfort zone when we see a coalition maintaining a military combat mission in Iraq without UN backing?
Ban Ki-moon: In principle the military means is not all there is. If you have seen this four year long Syrian crisis, tragedy, this Syrian tragedy has provided the perfect breeding ground for terrorism to put their roots in there and this is a very dangerous situation and we expect world leaders, wherever the country may be, they should reach out to the people and try to concentrate and try to listen to the voices of people. What their challenges, their grievances, what their aspirations are.
euronews: But do you support the bombing campaign in Iraq that is being lead by the US and France?
Ban Ki-moon: I have supported US military operations in Iraq which was done at the request of the Iraqi government. That, I have supported. Of course, you know, we need some solidarity of all the countries who have the means and the will, to address this. Because this is a common threat to humanity.
euronews: What about Syria? How does one deal with Syria? Because the strategy there is far from clear. I’ve seen Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign Minister and I’ll quote him here and he says “Syria and Iran are our natural allies in the fight.” He’s got a point, do you agree with him?
Ban Ki-moon: It’s encouraging to see that there there is a growing consensus within the international community that they have to address in any way this terrorism…
euronews: But should Syria and Iran be more involved?
Ban Ki-moon: The member states of the Security Council are actively engaged in consultation to discuss the options, various options, how to address to this one, including how they can take action in Syria…euronews: But a resolution would be pretty much impossible at Security Council level ….
Ban Ki-moon: The Security Council under the chairmanship of President Obama is going to address these foreign fighters issues, terrorism issues. I hope, the Security Council will really be united and find a good solution to this matter.
euronews: Do you think that Bashar Al-Assad, the leader of Syria, the President of Syria, could once again become an ally in the fight here?
Ban Ki-moon:This current situation is a consequence of the Syrian situation. It’s not the cause that he should understand. He should also do all that he can to counter terrorism. Then, there is a growing coalition in the international community…
euronews: Could he form part of that coalition then?
Ban Ki-moon: That, I have to see, what kind of option will be taken in the coming days.
euronews: The parameters of warfare seem to be morally disintegrating, as you mentioned we are seeing beheadings, but we are also seeing children targeted more and more. Not only in Iraq but in Syria and also in the recent conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians, which you called a moral outrage. Are the parameters of war changing; is this the face of modern warfare today?
Ban Ki-moon:There is a moral boundary, we have a universal declaration of human rights, it’s not that we don’t have all these guidelines and principles. It’s the people who do not respect this. Therefore, unless the international community is fully united and there should be a dialogue among religious leaders and political leaders and civil society leaders so that there should be a very clear call and voice coming from all people of the world, so that they should listen to these calls.
euronews: But the ideology is so powerful, if we go back very briefly to Syria and Islamic State, the ideology is so powerful that we are seeing young people in droves joining this group. They are not hearing that message. How do you counter that?
Ban Ki-moon: I am concerned about this kind of ideology or certain belief that dictates the thinking or belief of other people – this is absolutely unacceptable. We may not be able to eradicate all this overnight, that is why we take the firm condition, we are expecting the world leaders to exercise their leadership more inclusively, listening to the voices of the people and prevent any potential source of conflict or grievances shared by the people. That is very important, that is why my message has always been very consistent and strong: Listen carefully to the voices of the people. That is why we have seen so many domestic, internal conflicts.
euronews:I mentioned briefly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two sides seem more polarised than ever, do you think that within your own mandate that ends December 2016, that a peace agreement is possible.
Ban Ki-moon: It is encouraging that this ceasefire is largely holding. But this is very fragile. That is why we are still working very hard speaking to the leaders of all the sides. They have identified the underlying issues, fundamental root problems of these issues. If they do not address root causes – the current ceasefire may just be temporary, but not durable, which may again set the certain environment for more violence.
euronews: It happens every two to three years…
Ban Ki-moon: It is very sad, that is why I have been urging the leaders of the two sides to sit down together and they have identified all the problems already. It is a matter agreement of how you can be flexible and compromising with the vision of a better future.
euronews: Are you optimistic about this?
Ban Ki-moon: Well I am always working with optimism. As a Secretary General I have to constantly send out a message of hope and optimism. Of course we are committed to reconstruct Gaza…euronews:Reconstruction is not the real problem though…
Ban Ki-moon: Yes so there should be, If reconstruction is done without the firm foundation of a political solution it’s useless as we have seen. In 2009 there was a series of disruptions and we rebuilt, and they were re-destroyed in 2012 and it has been re-destroyed and re-destroyed. That is why I say we cannot continue like this, build, destroy, build, destroy. This should be the last time we build, we are ready to build but there must be a political solution.euronews:And that solution must come at UN Security Council level it must be extremely frustrating for you that the 5 veto wielding nations often use their veto for their own interests. We received this question from Kary Ma who says “Does the UN have a voice faced with these UN veto wielding nations?”
Ban Ki-moon:Of course the United Nations has been deeply engaged in this. It was I and Secretary Kerry of the US who have been really trying to bring this violence to a ceasefire together with some key countries like Egypt and there are many countries who have been helping. All this should be handled by political dialogue.euronews: But it must be very frustrating?
Ban Ki-moon:Of course it’s very frustrating – but it’s encouraging to know that the members of the Security Council are actively discussing the possibility of adopting a resolution at the Security Council to first of all help reconstruct this Gaza, as well as ensure effective monitoring and verification mechanisms for this ceasefire.
euronews: We’ve got a lot to cover so I’m going to quickly look at the situation in Ukraine, before we look at climate change. Ukraine has a tentative and I emphasise the word tentative, peace deal. Are you satisfied with the situation there?
Ban Ki-moon: I am encouraged that this ceasefire, based on the Minsk protocol is largely holding even though we have seen occasional sporadic violence happening and there has been some humanitarian assistance delivered. The UN has been from the beginning, including myself, trying to help both Ukraine and Russian leaders sit down together. I am encouraged that they are talking and meeting and talking over the phones and I have been continuously encouraging them to do so.euronews: The loss of Crimea is that the price of peace, do you think Ukraine will regain Crimea?
Ban Ki-moon: We have already made it quite clear our position that territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries should be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the UN. I again urge the leaders of Ukraine and Russia- always sit down together and discuss this matter sincerely. For the peace and security not only of Ukraine, but in the region, it has a much greater implication than national and regional. It has a global implication, it can affect political security but it can also affect the global economy.
euronews: Another issue that can affect the global economy and its an issue that is very close to your heart is that of climate change. You have described it as the defining issue of our time, we hear again and again that it is make or break time, so I would like to bring in this voice and its Enea Egoli who asks Secretary General- can we still reverse climate change?
Ban Ki-moon: We can if we take action now. This summit meeting is almost the last opportunity for world leaders and business leaders, civil society leaders, to commit themselves. First, to do all possible to contain the rising global temperature below 2 degree centigrade and to cut the emissions commensurate to our standard, to this global temp rise within 2 degrees and mobilise market and finance to support the adaptation and mitigation of many developing countries which do not have capacity and everybody should be on deck…
euronews: Well everybody should be on deck and bringing together this summit is a huge achievement, but you must be disappointed that the leaders of India, China and Russia are staying away?
Ban Ki-moon: I have been discussing this matter in depth with the Chinese leaders and also the Indian leaders. Because there domestic conflicting schedules they are not able to be here in person. But China is represented very highly with a senior person, third in their political hierarchy.
euronews: But it is sending out the wrong message is it not?.
Ban Ki-moon: The Indian prime minister is coming, even though he is not attending the summit meeting per se, he is coming on 27th and he is addressing the General Assembly. I expect he will commit the Indian government to more ambitious targets.euronews: But you must sometimes just want to put your head in your hands and cry because it has been such a battle has it not, to get where you are now, and there are still so many hurdles to cross…
Ban Ki-moon:Of course there are still so many hurdles to cross over, but we have a very limited time. I am encouraged that the most number of world leaders, more than 125, prime ministers and heads of state and kings are participating, together with many 10’s of foreign ministers and environment ministers. This is the largest ever meeting. The climate march, in New York where 100,000…
euronews:and its unprecedented you are joining in that what will you be shouting in that megaphone?
Ban Ki-moon: Yes, unprecedented for a UN Secretary General to join a crowd of a hundred thousand people marching together, sending out a strong voice.
euronews: And what’s your message, if I ask you to reduce your message: you have the megaphone in hand – what is your message as you go through the streets of New York?
Ban Ki-moon: Take action now, if we do not do now we will have to pay more. This is our world and this planet earth is burning now. In the name of prosperity we have to leave this planet earth sustainable, environmentally, socially and economically. This is our world and this our succeeding generations world. We will have a moral and political responsibility.