By Aaron Sekhri
“Stanford has certainly made its mark on the world. You dominate the field. You tackle obstacles. You reach your goals,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday to a full Dinkelspiel Auditorium.
“And that is just your football team.”
Ban, who has headed the United Nations since 2007, named sustainable development, political liberation and youth and women’s empowerment as key factors during a time of global transition.
“The global change we face today is more profound than in any period of my adult life,” Ban said.
Citing the movement of economic power from West to East, a push towards sustainability, and political upheavals in the Arab world, Ban argued that we are entering a period of historical transition.
“The changes we face are so profound that the decisions we make today will have a deeper and more lasting impact than any set of decisions in recent decades.”
Ban began his talk with the United Nations’ most critical functions. U.N. programs feed 90 million people a day, assist 33 million refugees and have 115,000 peacekeepers on four continents.
Ban also briefly discussed aspects of his personal life.
“For me, it started here…in Novato, where I stayed as a guest of the Patterson family,” he said. As an eighteen-year-old, in 1962, Ban traveled to the United States as part of a Red Cross effort. His host, Libba Patterson — now 95 years old and in the audience at the talk — was witness to when Ban discovered his love of travel.
“My trip to the United States, five decades ago, opened my eyes to the world,” Ban said. “I returned to Korea as a different person. It was here that my dream of public service took flight.”
This path took him to the leadership of the South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then the United Nations. He argued that the interconnectedness of the world’s problems mandated multilateral solutions.
Climate change, for example, has no border or nationality, one in which “the local becomes the global and the global becomes the local,” according to Ban.
“There can be no Plan B because there is no planet B,” he said. “Both science and economics tell us that we need to change our course very soon.”
He praised California as a pioneer in legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions through a market approach, emphasizing that what is happening in the Golden State could “spur progress in the global negotiations on climate change.”
Turning to what he called the “death spiral” in Syria and the French-led intervention in Mali, Ban noted the high hurdles to peace in those regions.
“Syria is in a death spiral…We are working with the Syrian authorities and all parties to help more people, and that is yielding some results,” he said. “But much more can and must be done.”
“Beyond Syria and the Sahel, we must continue to work for peace, justice and human rights throughout the Arab world and beyond,” he said. “Hard-won gains must not be reversed, particularly for all those women and young people on the frontlines.”
Calling women and youth the “most underutilized resources in the world,” he urged the audience to promote these groups in society.
“The world needs more women in cabinet, more women in parliament and more women in boardrooms, and at the United Nations, we are leading by example,” he said.
During his tenure as Secretary-General, women’s participation in high-level roles doubled compared to his predecessor.
Ending on the topic of LGBT rights, he cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
“As one advocate at the United Nations recently said, ‘If it’s not equality for all, it’s not equality at all,’” Ban said.
He closed his speech optimistically, talking about his passion for his job at the United Nations.
“I still carry the same energy and enthusiasm and sense of wonder when I first landed on Mrs. Patterson’s doorstep half a century ago,” he said.
“I begin my day, every day, every morning, with the same commitment for peace, the same passion and compassion,” he continued. “What can I, as the Secretary-General, what can the United Nations do better and more for the many people who are not fortunate around the world?”
The event was co-sponsored by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.