The United Nations Secretary General’s office, headed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, publishes an annual report about the condition of children in war-torn areas. The 2015 report, released last week, revealed that during that year 1,953 children were either killed or injured as a result of armed conflict. This figure is six times higher than it was in 2014, with 60% of these casualties caused by coalition groups led by Saudi Arabia in the multisided war in Yemen. The report also stated that the same coalition was responsible for 48% of all of the attacks on schools and hospitals -with the UN establishing 101 such attacks – twice the number that what was reported in 2014.

Based on its leadership role of the Yemen coalition, Saudi Arabia appeared on the U.N.-”blacklist” of violators of children’s human rights released last week. However, shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabia was removed from the list. Ban Ki-moon’s sudden change of heart has resulted in a massive outcry from human rights groups who have accused Ban Ki-moon of letting political pressure affect his judgment. In response, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the decision pending a joint review of cases with Saudi Arabia. Dujarric did not specify whether the Saudi Arabia Coalition in Yemen would be added to the blacklist if the review endorsed the findings in the original report. However, Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said they were wrongly placed on the list, and that “this removal is final.”

The Saudi Arabian Coalition in Yemen

The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015 with the intention of influencing the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War. Saudi Arabia headed a coalition of nine Arab states, which carried out a series of air strikes in Yemen, and also imposed an aerial and naval blockade. The intervention resulted in a dramatic worsening effect on the humanitarian situation in the region, reaching the level of a humanitarian tragedy. After the Saudi-led coalition declared the entire Saada Governorate a military target, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen said that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Saada city in Yemen were in breach of international law.

A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that from March until June 2015, almost two-thirds of civilians killed in the Yemeni conflict had died as a result of the air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. The actions of the coalition resulted in over 60 percent of child deaths in Yemen, with 510 deaths and 667 children seriously injured. The report stated that the coalition had carried out half the attacks on schools and hospitals. On July 2015, the UN declared Yemen a “level-three” human rights emergency – the highest UN emergency level.

In addition to the deaths of children directly caused by the armed conflict, the war in Yemen has resulted in nearly 10,000 children under the age of five to die from preventable diseases, because of lack of access to essential health services, like vaccination and antibiotics. According to a report released by UNICEF in March 2016, nearly 320,000 children in Yemen were at risk for “acute malnutrition,” with further millions of kids at risk of respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and measles.

The Effect of Political Pressure

After it became public that the UN had placed Saudi Arabia on the UN blacklist of children’s human rights violators, Saudi Arabia responded by threatening to break relations with the United Nations and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to its humanitarian relief and counterterrorism programs. Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, and Syria, if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the list. The threat worked, with the UN subsequently dropping the Saudis from the list of the world’s worst violators of children’s rights in conflict zones.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the UN gives in to political pressure. Last year, the United States warned that Congress might cut off funding to the UN if it included Israel on the same blacklist of armed entities that killed or injured children in conflict. In that case, the Secretary General removed Israel from a draft blacklist before it was made public. Pushing for the delisting of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, stated that it was unfair for Israel to be quietly let off the hook, while the Kingdom was not.

On another occasion, in 2014, Ban Ki-moon invited Iran to United Nations-brokered political negotiations over Syria. After he was advised by American officials to rescind the invitation, he appeared before reporters and stated that Iran could not attend. The State Department had demanded that prior to attending the negotiations, Iran accept certain conditions that it knew Tehran would find unacceptable. The result was that Iran did not attend the negotiations. Again, the political pressure exerted by the US worked to change the Secretary General’s original position.

Although it might be unrealistic to expect the UN to be completely unaffected by political pressures, the office of the Secretary General of the UN should be expected to carry out its mandate and its responsibilities without being concerned about funds being withdrawn by countries that disagree with its decisions. Every time the Secretary General gives in to political pressure, the UN loses credibility in its alleged efforts to eradicate human rights violations. Whether the answer is to change the UN model to decentralize power and give more autonomy to the office of the Secretary General, or to force countries to commit funds for use by the UN without the ability to withdraw such funding regardless of the UN’s decisions, it is important to recognize the need for change. For the UN to maintain its authority as a supranational organization to be accorded respect by all nations, its fairness, integrity and trustworthiness must never be in doubt.




Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth with wide-ranging impact. In his State of the Union speech earlier this week, President Obama said the debate over climate change was settled. “Climate change is a fact.” “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” he said.

Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged political, economic and financial leaders to intensify their efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy in preparation for the Climate Summit in September 2014 in New York. Climate change was a major focus of the annual Forum in Davos, which dedicated one entire day and more than 20 events to the topic of climate change and energy policy.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change refers to the effects resulting in the climate from global warming. Wallace Broecker, a geochemist, coined the phrase “global warming” in 1975. Global warming refers to the increase of the average global surface temperature caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. A greenhouse gas absorbs energy from the sun and re-emits it in all directions, including down to Earth. An increase in greenhouse gases results in the temperature of the Earth rising, which in turn, causes numerous changes in the Earth’s climate. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that occurs naturally and is also emitted by the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

The concern regarding climate change began in the 19th century, when scientific evidence first began to suggest that accumulated carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could create a greenhouse effect and increase the temperature of the planet. By the middle of the 20th century, it was becoming clear that human action had significantly increased the production of carbon dioxide, and the process of global warming was accelerating. The level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere presently is higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

Most of the hottest years on record have occurred during the past two decades. According to NASA scientists, 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 as the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2000. Today, most scientists agree that either we stop and reverse this process now or face a devastating cascade of natural disasters that will seriously alter life on Earth.

Consequences of Climate Change

Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, and availability and use of water. The consequences of global warming include rising sea levels; extreme heat events, melting snow and ice; fires and drought; and extreme storms, rainfall and floods. In Europe, the heat wave in the summer of 2003 resulted in over 30,000 deaths.  In India, temperatures reached 48.1 degrees Centigrade, which is nearly 119 degrees Fahrenheit. Two years later, the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina in the United States was attributed in large part to the elevated water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2008, in one of many topographic changing developments, 160 square miles of territory broke away from the Antarctic coast after its bindings to Antarctica had melted away.

According to a recent draft United Nations report, a delay in reducing the emission of carbon to the atmosphere would force future generations to develop the ability to somehow remove greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet. The most evident problem is that it is still not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the cost of the reparations might be prohibitive. The new warnings came in a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel of climate experts that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to analyze and communicate the risks of climate change.

UN Initiatives on Climate Change

In 1992, the “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in tackling the problem of climate change. The Convention’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set carbon emission reduction targets for industrialized countries, and helped stabilize and in some cases reduce, emissions in several countries.

In 1998, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide an objective source of scientific information and to study the issue of climate change in depth. In December 2010, climate change talks in Cancún concluded with a package of decisions to help countries advance towards a low-emissions future. The “Cancún Agreements,” include formalizing mitigation pledges and ensuring increased accountability for them, as well as taking concrete action to protect the world’s forests.

In 2011 the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, produced the Durban Platform. In Durban, governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. In December 2012, after two weeks of negotiations at the Doha conference, nations agreed to a new commitment period for the Kyoto protocol and affirmed a previous decision to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015.

The recent draft UN report states that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is increasing. It predicts that another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, and states that governments of the world are still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy, thus encouraging continued investment in projects like coal-burning power plants that pose a long-term climate risk.

Political Response by Individual Nations to Climate Change

Political willingness to tackle climate change is growing in many countries and new policies are spreading, however, currently there is still a considerably larger growth in the production of fossil fuels. Emissions appear to have fallen in recent years in some of the wealthiest countries but the growth of international trade allows manufacturers to produce abroad goods that are consumed in wealthy countries. These countries outsource their greenhouse gas emissions to countries like China.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was meant to have nations commit to limit emissions, has not been as successful as intended because some important countries like the United States refused to ratify it or later withdrew, and also because of flaws within the treaty itself, such as the fact that the treaty exempted developing countries from taking strong action, a decision that many experts think was a mistake.

Nations have agreed to try to limit the warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. This target is not ideal, an according to experts, would still mean future ecological and economic damage, but the hope is that it would come on slowly enough to be somewhat manageable. What is clear is that the risk of doing nothing with regards to climate change will risk serious disruption to all living things on Earth and will cause catastrophic events to occur that will pose significant risks to human health, agriculture, freshwater supplies, coastlines, and other natural resources that are vital to the economy, the environment, and our quality of life. What is not clear at all is how to reach a solution that avoids further endangering the Earth.

How can we address the issue of Global Warming?

Is it necessary to implement more strict policies on nations regarding carbon emissions?

Is the UN effective in addressing the concerns about climate change?

Should the United States and China, as the nations that produce the largest amount of carbon emissions, be required by the international community to formulate a plan to reduce their emissions?

In a recent session on climate, growth and development, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that progress on addressing climate change will involve not just governments but also the full engagement of the business and finance communities. Do businesses have a social responsibility to help in the reduction of carbon emissions and prevent the future dangers that climate change pose to society?