Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon was in the Solomon Islands recently. I had to look up this nation of less than half-a-million people on a map. It’s a collection of volcanic, typhoon-and-tsunami-vulnerable islands out in the Pacific Ocean, somewhat northeast of Australia (see here).
Recently, reports the CIA, rival “armed ethnic factions crippled the Solomon Islands in a wave of violence” that lasted four years. The stability of this country has been further undermined by “government malfeasance” and “endemic crime.”
The BBC says this nation is one of the poorest in the region and that the recent civil war has left it almost bankrupt. Law and order was only restored and government institutions have only been rebuilt with the assistance of outsiders.
Oh, and it turns out “the Solomon Islands is a destination country for child sex tourists.”
In other words, the citizens of this nation are beset by a multitude of serious problems – problems that may crush their spirits and maim their bodies even in the event that their lives aren’t violently taken from them.
So what did the head of the UN talk about during his visit? Climate change.
According to a headline in that country’s leading daily newspaper, the Solomon Islands are sinking. Ergo, this is the fault of wealthy, industrialized nations that, in the view of Ban Ki-moon, need to “be more morally and politically responsible.”
The newspaper further quotes him as saying:
…you are on the front line of climate change. I am here to sound aloud to the international community your concerns…
…Your very existence is threatened. Therefore the UN shares your concerns very much. Climate change is the greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the people of Solomon Islands and the pacific region. [bold added]
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published in 2007, estimates that sea levels could rise by as much as 59 cm by the year 2100. Fifty-nine centimeters is 23 inches.
How can a rise in sea level of less than 2 feet spread over nearly 100 years possibly be mistaken by the head of the UN as the greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the inhabitants of these islands?
Why would he publicly suggest to a people struggling to get their act together that their most pressing concern has nothing to do with their own behaviour and is not their own responsibility?
I mean, he actually told these people that they’re entitled to financial and technological support from more prosperous nations who’ve allegedly “made this climate change.”
The poor are, indeed, at highest risk from whatever nasty effects might be associated with climate change. But all the poverty and strife in the Solomon Islands is not the fault of rich countries.
Surely these people can protect themselves with basic measures such as building their dwellings a safe distance from the water’s edge. If the UN really cares about them perhaps it should be doing everything possible to help them emigrate to places where the economy is healthier, the politics more stable, and the opportunities more plentiful.
I understand that it is the interest of UN bureaucrats to get their hands on a $100 billion a year in new funding by arguing that poor countries need help coping with climate change (see here and here). I get that. If I were a UN employee I might see the world from that perspective, too.
But when one visits an impoverished country still recovering from civil war, still worried that ethnic tensions might burst violently into the open again, how can it be conscionable to tell them their biggest challenge is climate change?
How can it be in the interests of these people to be advised – by the head of the UN, no less – that their most pressing problem isn’t what they they think it is, and that it won’t be solved by their own sweat and toil?
How can it be helpful to be told they should be spending their time begging/extorting money from foreigners, instead?
If this is what the UN thinks moral leadership looks like, we’re all in big trouble.