Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009 to be UN Year of Climate Change

     

United Nations (AFP) - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called 2009 "the year of climate change" as he reviewed the world body's "mixed" record handling crises in Darfur, Kosovo and Zimbabwe.

Speaking at his last official press conference at UN headquarters this year, the secretary general listed climate change, one of his priorities since he assumed his post two years ago, as a key challenge for the world next year.

"I am pleased with our success in keeping climate change high on the global agenda," he said, adding that "2009 will be the year of climate change."

"We have no time to waste. We must reach a global climate change deal before the end of the year (2009) -- one that is balanced, comprehensive and ratifiable by all nations," Ban said.

"Success will require extraordinary leadership," he added, hailing progress made during a weekend conference in Poland where the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change approved a work program for talks leading up to a treaty to be sealed in Copenhagen next December.

More broadly, he described 2008 as "the year of multiple crises" in which the UN record has been "mixed" and said the coming year "promises to be no less difficult."

On Sudan's Darfur conflict, he deplored the fact that the joint UN-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping force still lacks critical assets, including transport and attack helicopters.

Only 60 per cent of what is mandated to be a 26,000-strong UNAMID will be deployed by year's end and 85 per cent by next March, he noted.

"Meanwhile renewed fighting and political rivalry makes a political solution difficult," the UN boss said.

In Kosovo, where separatists unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade in February, Ban said the United Nations had managed a "potentially explosive situation through quite diplomacy."

On Somalia, he differed with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's view that a UN peacekeeping operation was needed in lawless Somalia at this time.

"Conditions are not favorable to consider a UN peacekeeping operation," he said, while insisting that "the danger of anarchy in Somalia is clear and present. So is the need to act."

He recommended greater efforts to bolster the inter-Somali peace process, reinforcing the capacity of the African Union force in Somalia "through funding, equipment and training" and establishing a maritime task force to set the stage for "a possible UN peacekeeping operation."

And he welcomed as "timely" the Security Council's decision Tuesday "to authorize action against pirates on land in Somalia."

On the Middle East, he said 2009 could also mark the "year of peace" as he said a Security Council resolution adopted Tuesday in support of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was "important to keep up this momentum."

He expressed hope that the incoming US administration of president-elect Barack Obama "will take the Middle East peace process as a matter of priority."

He also said he looked forward "to working very closely with" Susan Rice, the new US ambassador-designate to the United Nations.

Asked about Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's comments last week that Israeli Arabs who had national aspirations should move to a Palestinian state when it is established, Ban first tried to deflect the question.

But when pressed further, he said: "I do not regard it as an official position. It's not desirable if it is."

The UN chief also warned that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe was growing "more alarming every day", with the country "on the brink of economic, social and political collapse."

"We need a fair and sustainable political solution... And we need it fast," he added.

In Afghanistan, where the wobbly Kabul government and a NATO-led force are battling a resurgent Taliban rebellion, Ban said "a political 'surge' and a clear change of direction are required."

He also warned that while the food crisis no longer dominates news headlines, "it has not gone away."

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