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02 May 2024

Urgent UN reform needed to avoid paralysis on crises, says former Secretary-General

A former Secretary-General of the United Nations has called for “urgent reform” of the powerful Security Council to stop political wrangling from preventing action on major humanitarian crises.

Ban Ki-moon speaking on stage with Professor 'Funmi Olonisakin and Professor Shitij Kapur on 1 May 2024
Credit: Jo Mieszkowski

Ban Ki-moon warned the Security Council was “too often paralysed” and called on its five permanent members, the UK, US, France, China and Russia, to remember the cost of inaction seen during genocides in Rwanda and Syria.

He also highlighted the threats from climate change, warning that the science suggests, if global temperature rises are not kept under control, a sixth global mass extinction could unfold.

Mr Ban was speaking at King’s College London and reflected on his time at the helm of the United Nations (UN) where he served as the eighth Secretary-General from 2007-2016, and he also looked ahead to emerging threats to global peace and security.

He said: “The malfunctioning of the UN Security Council, the gridlock, is holding up the UN from the job of protecting future generations from the scourge of war.

I am of the view that urgent reform is a vital process to ensure the UN remains relevant. The Security Council is too often paralysed during urgent crises such as the situation we are seeing in Ukraine and Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon

Mr Ban added: “The Council and its member states, particularly those who wield a veto – which includes the UK, must never forget the lessons of Rwanda or Syria, or today in Ukraine and the Middle East.

“The international community must reaffirm its commitment to human rights for all.”

Delivering a lecture to a packed audience of King’s students and staff yesterday, he also highlighted climate change as the greatest threat facing the globe and said if global temperature rises were not kept under control, the science suggested a sixth global mass extinction could unfold.

The climate crisis is here now and we need collective action to ensure full implementation of the Paris agreement. The situation remains critical and we must not allow states to backpedal or decelerate the green transition

Ban Ki-moon

Mr Ban was joined on stage by Professor Shitij Kapur, Vice-Chancellor and President of King’s College London, and Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, King’s Vice President (International, Engagement & Service). His lecture, ‘The role of multilateralism under current global challenges’, was followed by questions from the audience.

Ahead of the lecture, Mr Ban was given a guided tour of King’s Strand campus and joined Professor Kapur and guests for a formal dinner.

The former Secretary-General’s visit was supported by the Department of European and International Studies, Department of Political Economy, Department of War Studies, School of Global Affairs, King's Business School, and the Dickson Poon School of Law.