|PHOTOGRAPHED BY KO EUN-BIY
AMIDST THE vibrant greens of the Yonsei campus, Appenzeller Hall is home to the newly established Institute for Global Engagement & Empowerment and the Ban Ki-Moon Center for Sustainable Development. The two centers, headed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, were established in order to foster the school’s spirit of volunteer and philanthropy and to nurture young and ambitious supporters of sustainability. A true and active advocate of sustainable development, Ban plans to assist the centers’ research efforts, missionary projects, and community services. During an interview with the school press, including The Yonsei Annals, Yonsei Chunchu, and the Yonsei Broadcasting System, Ban provided valuable insight on how he plans to apply his previous experiences to help Yonseians become truly global citizens.
Annals: After completing your term as a visiting professor at Harvard University, you have decided to start for your new post in Yonsei University. Why did you decide to come to Yonsei?
Ban: As the former UN Secretary General, one of my utmost priorities is to educate and offer inspirational thoughts to young people. I chose to come to Yonsei because its founding principles—volunteerism, compassion, and devotion toward others—matched the spirits of the UN. In addition, working on this campus will allow me to collaborate with professors who have experience and knowledge in the fields of climate change and the environment. My new position at Yonsei has given me an opportunity to pursue my aspirations.
Annals: Could you introduce the newly established Bank Ki-moon Center for Sustainable Development and The Insitute for Global Engagement & Empowerment to our readers?
Ban: The Ban Ki-moon Center for Sustainability and The Institute for Global Engagement & Empowerment were established to conduct various voluntary and social contributory works within the university under an organized system. I hope the two centers can contribute to raising awareness of the importance of sustainability not only within Yonsei, but also on a global scale.
Annals: During your tenure as the UN Secretary General, one of your achievements was establishing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Could you explain what they are?
Ban: In 2000, global leaders gathered to deliver a message of hope for global citizens in celebration of a new millennium. The respective discussions led to the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were hoped to bring change for people in developing nations. The UN was especially concerned with eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, improving health outcomes, mitigating the effects of climate change, and empowering women.
However, the results were unsatisfactory. We wanted actual change, change that would improve the lives of the impoverished, the ill, and the unhappy. We needed an action-oriented group. So in 2012, the UN caucused with member states and established the 2030 SDGs. This time, the goals were not just for developing nations, but for every country in the world. We wanted to create a world where all citizens could enjoy basic rights and live comfortably in a good environment.
In order to devise the goals, we asked around 7 to 8 million people, regardless of gender or age, about their dreams and aspirations. Collecting all the responses was a long process, but we eventually came up with 17 concrete goals. These goals have been scientifically and economically verified by the experts.
The SDGs aim to connect the present and future generations. We strive to create a better world for our descendants, a world where all illnesses are curable, where maternal health is guaranteed, and most importantly, where equality is established.
Annals: Since the establishment of the SDGs, the significance of environmental sustainability has been increasingly emphasized. As a strong advocate of climate change, what are your thoughts?
Ban: Sustainability is indeed a key issue. We are left with limited natural resources and fresh air given by Mother Nature. We need to fulfill SDG 13 first and combat climate change, or humanity will be at peril.
As Hurricane Irma and Harvey have shown us, climate change is leading to tremendous natural disasters. Such disasters will occur more often if we do not take the necessary measures. Extreme weather patterns are prevalent in the world. We tend to neglect the significance of the smallest environmental changes, but this negligence is rather dangerous.
In South Korea, it is said that the ocean waters of Incheon have risen by 2mm over a year. This may not seem like a significant increase, but in 10 years, this becomes 2cm, and in 20 years this becomes 4cm. It will not be long until the oceans will rise by 2m; by then the mainland of Incheon and its adjacent areas will be sunk. Humanity is incompetent to fight against such tremendous consequences posed by the climate change. Before we face such disasters, we need to take action.
Annals: What then, are the necessary actions that should be taken at the national and individual levels?
Ban: National assemblies must pass policies that reflect the SDGs and ratify them. They should be able to influence the behaviors of people, just like any other constitutional set of laws would do.
It is becoming increasingly urgent that we minimize the disasters of climate change. We should aim to substantially lower carbon emissions and consumption on a sustainable pattern. Carbon emissions, for instance, from food waste is quite substantial. South Korea has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 37% by 2030, but I think we could be more ambitious with our goals. Solutions such as the De-carbonization Pathway Project are necessary for the global community to last.
The school’s efforts in founding The Institute for Global Engagement & Empowerment and the Ban Ki-moon Center for Sustainable Development are indeed innovative steps in promoting sustainability. But most importantly, individuals should take action and stay attentive in global issues. Do not consider sustainability as a complex goal—you can start by adjusting your everyday habits. Even the smallest actions, such as turning off the lights when you leave the house or using less water, contribute to saving energy. It is not so difficult to change your habits. We, as global citizens, need to be responsible for the Earth and its natural reserves.
Annals: What should educators focus on in order to foster global citizenship?
Ban: Education is important, but what is more important is how you use that quality education. How will you analyze and apply theories? Regardless of your major or field of study, it is important for individuals to nurture a global vision. You need to see yourself as a global citizen, not just a Yonsei student or a South Korean citizen.
Back when I met former U.S. President John F. Kennedy during the Cold War, he reinforced how the contemporary world is void of national boundaries. We live in an interconnected, globalized world. The world is one. We should discuss and think of ways to live for others, to volunteer, and to contribute for the better lives of all people. Universities should be able to nurture global citizens.
For that reason, I try to converse and interact with the young generation. I wish that college students, high school students, and the younger generations from different areas would cultivate a better global spirit.
Annals: What are your future plans?
Ban: My three greatest concerns in the moment are global climate change, sustainability, and gender equality. I have many other plans ahead of me, but my primary aim is to reinforce a world in which all citizens of the world can live along with the natural environment, preserving and sustaining its beauty.
Annals: Do you have any final words for our readers?
Ban: I am fully aware of the everyday issues that young people face in terms of unemployment and recession. 50 years ago, our generation had similar concerns and thoughts. However, now it seems like the two generations live in completely different worlds. So my word of advice cannot directly be applied to the youth today.
However, one point I would like to emphasize is do not attend school just to get a job, or learn just for the sake of making a living. Rather, try to see the world from a wider perspective and learn to think globally. Think about what contributions you can make, what changes you can bring, and most importantly, how you, as an individual, can contribute to the world.
As a former UN Secretary General, I have had the honor of visiting many countries, including those in extreme poverty. There, I came across quite a few South Korean youth who devoted their time in helping the impoverished. They teach Korean to the children, offer free medical services, and help the local people in their everyday activities. They aim to connect with the impoverished locals and think in their shoes.