My “date” with Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations

by Kate Smolski

September 25, 2007

In September 2007, a few days before the United Nations high level meeting for climate change—in which Greenpeace China’s campaign director, Lo Sze Ping, is invited to address 70 heads of state (including Bush) about what we believe countries should do to protect the climate—Greenpeace is also invited by the office of the Secretary General to meet the Secretary General himself in private. When my colleague informs me that on behalf of Greenpeace China , I am to be part of the Greenpeace delegation, my first reaction is, "You have to be kidding me! I am just a 26-year old girl! What am I going to say to when I meet Mr. Ban Ki-moon?!"

For me, meeting Ban Ki-moon is the equivalent of meeting a rock star like Michael Jackson or the Beatles. For one, we are both Korean and he is currently probably one of the best known Koreans in the world. Moreover, I admire his values and the fact that he takes the problems of this world so personally—in his recent piece in the International Herald Tribune, he stated that as a child of the Korean War, he grew up viewing the United Nations as a savior, an organization which helped his country recover and rebuild from a devastating conflict. And this is in turn made him devote his life to public service. For me, this has amazing resonance—having lived in many countries, such as Korea, Latin America, the USA, and now my new home China, where I was and still am extremely affected by all the environmental devastation and poverty I see, I also take the problems of the world very personally, which has in turn led me to work for Greenpeace.

So back to the story of meeting Ban Ki-moon. We arrive to the United Nations building in New York City. The United Nations building is a great place to be—seeing people from different nationalities and ethnicities working, visiting and interacting in harmony in this 38-story building is such an inspiring sight, and you can’t help but to wonder why the rest of the world cannot be like this. After passing through various security checks, four other Greenpeace colleagues and myself finally go up to the top floor where the office of the Secretary General is located. We are warmly greeted by a various UN staff and then suddenly there he is—Mr. Ban Ki-moon himself.

I am almost star-struck. It is almost an out-of-space feeling, meeting someone whose face you are so familiar with from TV and newspapers but you have never met before. His face almost has a sense of tranquility, and I think ‘this is the reason why this man can lead one of the most complex organizations with the largest mission in the world.’ We all stand in line to greet the secretary general. When it is my turn to shake hands with him, I introduce myself in Korean, and tell him that I am representing Greenpeace China. He seems to be very surprised and very happy to see a fellow Korean working for Greenpeace and representing a country that is not her own, much like himself. He doesn’t let my hand go for about 20 seconds and continues to shake it, and in the meantime asks me various questions including why I am working in China as a Korean and whether I speak Chinese, making me blush all along the way.

We sit down, and briefly exchange words about the future of climate change. When it comes to my turn, I briefly introduce him to our work in China, and tell him how we engage policy makers in China and showcase to them that it is possible to achieve economic growth while stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency while decreasing China’s dependency on coal. I also introduce him to our work on raising awareness on climate change. I give him the example of how young people in China are becoming increasingly interested in climate change, as shown by how much interest Greenpeace’s Himalaya expedition blog, where we discussed how rapidly glaciers are retreating, got in the major Chinese websites (200,000 hits in a few hours!). I am very happy when he in turn tells us that he has been following Greenpeace’s work for a long time and that he admires what we do, and how much impact we have made in the climate change front. He also tells us we have to continue to push countries as well as inspire the public to act on climate change. He clearly understands the impact that NGOs can have in addressing a societal issue, and am ecstatic to hear from one of the highest and most admired political leaders in the world that Greenpeace indeed has been making positive change.

The meeting ends, and as I come out of the office still feeling elated and numb. I ask myself: ‘Did that just happen?! Did I just exchange various words with the secretary general of the United Nations?!’ I truly hope that I have done justice in not only representing Greenpeace but also the young people from China and Asia, and have let Mr. Ban know that indeed we do care about climate change and that we do fully support the United Nations and individual countries in their efforts to combat climate change. I am also personally determined to continue the fight against climate change, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes.

Jamie Choi
Greenpeace China

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