Ban Ki-moon greeted the audience with a humble bow as he approached the podium in Salomon Hall.
As part of the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture Series, Ban reflected on his two-term tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations while also calling for partnership, global citizenship and sustainable development in his speech Monday afternoon.
During his lecture, Ban spoke of his proudest achievements as Secretary-General, a position he held from 2007 to 2016. In his role, he encouraged partnership between world leaders and helped create U.N. Women, an organization formed to advance women’s rights.
Additionally, Ban addressed a dire need to focus on climate change. “Many people think climate change is something far away, but it is with us today. … We don’t have a planet B, therefore there cannot be a plan B,” he said.
Ban notably led the U.N. initiative to establish the Sustainable Development Goals — which aim to eradicate poverty, inequality and climate change — as priorities of the U.N.’s agenda while he held office. In fact, for decades, Ban has been one of the loudest voices in environmental protection — even dubbing himself “Mr. Climate.” This nickname doesn’t come unwarranted; one of his lasting achievements while at the U.N. was his work on the Paris Climate Agreement, a feat of global cooperation that brought 174 different parties to agreement.
Ban fondly recalled how the “whole world’s leaders were united” at the two-year anniversary of the Paris Accord last December. But he voiced his frustration with the United States’ being the only delegation not in attendance and President Trump’s unwillingness to take climate change seriously.
He is “the president of the world’s richest, most resourceful country, to whom people of the world are looking to lead,” Ban said. “What President Trump has said is politically short-sighted, economically irresponsible (and) scientifically wrong.”
While Trump’s leadership style isn’t one of international cooperation, Ban recognizes that the United States is “vitally important” to future relations between North and South Korea.
Though “we must remain focused on the danger and threat that North Korea’s nuclear missile program poses to the Republic of Korea, the United States and the world,” Ban said seeing signs of cooperation between North and South Korea during the Winter Olympics has made him hopeful for the future.
Ban also discussed how serving as the leader of an international organization such as the U.N. requires a global outlook and urged those in the audience to have one as well.
“We must remain confident in our international systems … and institutions like the United Nations,” Ban said, adding that “solving the problems of the world today is intrinsically global in nature. They continue to require global cooperation and global solutions.”
Ban recalled meeting former President John F. Kennedy at the White House as a teenager, where Kennedy advised him, even at the height of the Cold War, that “national boundaries do not mean much.”
“At that time, I had been asking myself what I could do … for my country. I never thought about what should I do for the world,” Ban said. He cites this influential moment as a reason he became a world leader.
His closing words were hopeful; Ban said he is confident that future generations will be able to take on the challenges presented by the current political climate as long as they do it with a global attitude, cooperation and partnership.
“Look outside your immediate surroundings, your state and your country,” he said. “Think beyond yourself. … You hold the keys to unlock a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future. You are the innovators, you are the change makers, you are the leaders and you are the global citizens of today and tomorrow.”