Amb. Thomas Stelzer (Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at DESA, UN)

14.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Orla Colclough, Anja Dargatz, Dr. Poulatova & Lukas Wank

Colclough: Today we are here with His Excellency Ambassador Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at DESA, UN. We are joined today by some participants from the Symposium 2011: Anja Dargatz, Dr. Poulatova, and Lukas Wank.

Q1. Poulatova: You mentioned before about the 50:50:50 challenge which to me looks like a huge challenge. How realistic is this intention and have you set up checks and balances, so for example every 10 years checking that we are on the right track. Also, how disastrous will the consequences be if these targets are not met?

Stelzer: We do not have much flexibility here. These numbers are imposed on us by nature; it is not chosen. From reading the hard facts reflected in a lot of the reports, the most important of which is called the IPCC, policymakers drew the conclusion that 2 degrees is an affordable margin. Now that is a political decision. They could have said 1 degree which would not have been affordable, they could have said 3 degrees, but this would not have been accepted by a lot of countries so they came to 2 degrees. This was a political decision. So we agreed that we have to stop raising temperature within the addition of 2 degrees. From this it is possible to mathematically calculate what we have to do to stay within these 2 degrees. How many millions of tons of CO2 emissions we can afford to emit, still staying within the 2 degrees. These are the parameters within which we are working. This is not a UN assumption; it’s something that came out of the negotiation process with our member states. We are working towards finding a platform for the implementation of these agreements.

Q2. Colclough: I just have a question about the 50:50:50. In terms of how we expect the population to rise, how was that calculated, is it based on how it increased over the last 40 years and is that expected to remain the same?

Stelzer: Well, we have statisticians who work on projections of the future based on the experiences of the past. We also have a division of the population department who come out with these statistics, telling us what to expect in population growth, and our assertions are drawn from their conclusions. Normally they are pretty precise in their projections. They just came out with their last report 2 or 3 weeks ago which is reflected globally in the newspapers. According to this report; there will be more than a tripling of the population of Africa in the foreseeable future which is going to create terrible challenges for us. It is possible that we may be able to influence the achievement of a gender balance by providing schooling, education and jobs for women, which will subsequently stabilize the growth rate. Making family planning available to larger groups of consumers in Africa might also have a positive effect on population development. All of these projections are based on past experiences, there will be some changes of course however, in principle this is what we are working with. We expect, by 2050, there will be 50% more people living on the globe than do today.

Q3. Poulatova: So far where are we now in 2011? Are we reaching the targets, are we making the steps forward?

Stelzer: We are already lagging behind significantly. We are losing time. It is a very challenging target, reducing emissions quickly, and we haven’t really started yet on a big scale. So we have to asses where can we act quickly? Now in energy of course you can replace fossil with sustainable fuel, that’s one thing. But you can also look into energy efficiency where there are large possibilities for saving energy and reducing energy use. This is something that can be done very quickly by subsidising better constructions, better installations in houses, solar panels. All of these propositions are highly feasible and can be achieved very quickly. We have a lot of opportunities to act here if we agree to do it.

Q4. Poulatova: You mentioned earlier, in your presentation, about making cars that actually run with less fuel. Do you think that plan will in fact take place or are most car manufacturers not on the negotiating table and therefore are not prepared to do something like that?

Stelzer: A lot has happened here already, even in the USA. If you look at car sales, the sale of smaller cars has picked up much more quickly than the sale of larger cars. This is a strategic decision which has taken the market into consideration. Oil prices have also had an effect here. SUV’s require more oil than small cars. People who do not have to care about these issues will continue to buy SUV’s, but in the face of energy prices, they might decide to buy smaller cars. There is increasing production of so called hybrid cars which use considerably less energy. However, this is not the end of the turn. You can go much further than this and we all know that we have the technical abilities to produce extremely fuel efficient cars. On the other hand, nearly all of the Fortune 500 are making all of their profits from oil and its derivatives. The entire farm industry is living off oil derivatives. Therefore, there is huge interest in continuing to build our world economy on fossil energy. How to get that into the equation is up to the politicians. Technically it is entirely feasible. In Germany we have these famous 3 litre cars already, which simply have to be produced. There are French carmakers that are focusing on electric cars. We all know that most people in cities don’t drive more than 50km a day, which is perfectly possible for electric cars. However, the question is subsequently, how we produce this electricity? Is it going to be clean electricity or dirty electricity? Producing electric cars is not the complete solution, it is a step in the right direction, but it will not resolve the whole problem so we have to look at different aspects.

The question is how we will produce energy in the future and there are several opportunities. Presently we are not able to phase out fossil energy. More than 30 states in the US pretty much rely on coal production, which is linked to employment, which is a strong factor for politicians who need the votes of the constituents. That means 60 senators represent people who heavily rely on coal production. The question of how to convince these constituents and provide them with alternatives will require a certain amount of flexibility but it is possible. Coal, as such, is not bad, just the emissions are bad. If we equip coal plants with carbon capturing devices, which are available, just expensive, we can again make a big step forward regarding climate change. It is only possible to do that if all the producers invest money into carbon capturing otherwise it is not competitive. So if we source an agreement and use global norms we can consequently make a big step forward. China is doing that and are investing heavily in carbon capturing.

Colclough: I suppose the important thing is that we don’t see it as a means to an end. As long as we don’t put all our eggs in that basket and not concurrently develop other forms of energy, wave power, wind power, solar power…

Stelzer: Realistically, there will always be an energy mix and a lot of people argue that nuclear energy will be part of this mix. A lot has occurred in the field of nuclear energy over the past few months. This is due to the fact that no nuclear plant has been built, or will be built, with private investments. It’s all funded by subsidies, meaning that taxpayers money is being invested in nuclear plants. Thus, civil society will have a strong influence on the future of nuclear energy. If we look at Europe for example, nuclear energy generates 60 billion Euros in profits every year without any investments. Taxpayer’s money is invested, 60 billion Euros of profit is privatized, and is subsequently pursed by shareholders. Thus, there is limited incentive to get off this track unless civil society takes a very firm role like in Germany. Germany has totally reversed its nuclear policy in the last few months due to pressure from civil society. France is very far away from that, so this will potentially have a big effect. We are learning now that the interests of nuclear energy have prevented control mechanisms. There is no separation of interests, like the regulatory capacities in the US which are very much dominated by the producers of nuclear energy. This has a strong effect on security measures as we can see in Japan now and consequently we are learning. Japan of all countries is reversing its nuclear policy. They are closing plants now in Japan which are not yet critical. Nobody would have expected this development a year ago. So there are a lot of possibilities here but of course many still argue that nuclear energy is a green energy because it doesn’t produce emissions. Of course it needs a lot of cooling water which might not be available in many regions where they want to build nuclear power plants and we have seen very recently what happens if you don’t have enough cooling water for the reactors in any phase, especially critical phases. So all of these factors have to be calculated and if we do that sustainable energy is much more competitive than if you don’t integrate externalities.

Q5. Dargatz: Moving to a completely different face of the UN, you mentioned that the resolution for Libya put in to action, the responsibility to protect. I would argue that it started like this but to me the intervention in Libya no longer looks like the simple implementation of a no-fly zone but in fact a mission to kill Gaddafi. Did this development occur during the discussion over the resolution itself or is it out of control?

Stelzer: I can’t really say much about that. There are so many political calculations in the background which are the domain of our member states. What happened was that at a certain point a resolution was passed which was greeted internationally as a huge achievement. From the point of view of the UN it was a very positive step because it protected the people in Libya from an illegitimate government which had threatened to slaughter its own population. The day before the resolution was passed Gaddafi warned his population that he was coming after them. So from our point of view the resolution was a strong, protective step. Military specialists had warned that implementing of a no fly zone can be highly problematic, but you need to be a specialist to assess that exactly. If we look at the picture right now it seems to be a very difficult and complex situation because it is not a civil war, there are no clear dividing lines, there are no clear structures, no representations, there are no polls, nobody how much support Gadaffi still has in his country. Another complicated factor is that there is no real structure or organization of the rebel groups. This means that it is not two parts of the country fighting each other and consequently it is a very unclear situation which we are struggling to assess. In the meantime the UN is mainly focusing on delivering humanitarian aid. We are trying to support all of these displaced persons; the refugees. Additionally we are trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the cities which are being blocked off and are running very low on food and medical supplies. This is extremely difficult. We were trying to send six people to Tripoli to establish a support structure but had to retract them again after two days because the conditions are terrible so it is an extremely difficult situation for the United Nations.

Q6. Colclough: And the organization of the opposition is something that came up in other discussions during the Symposium too?

Stelzer: Of course yesterday this point was raised; why you don’t intervene in all the countries, why only in Libya? But this is a question you have to ask our member states. The Libyan resolution has been driven by a small group of countries. If those countries drive another resolution on Syria, the Security Council might or might not react and the UN action will be based on the Security Council action. As long as there is no action by the Security Council we act within our larger mandate which means in Syria we are providing humanitarian aid wherever we can. UNICEF and UNHCR for example have been bringing tent supplies in to the northern part of Iraq anticipating a streaming back of former Iraqi refugees in to Syria, so they can ease their needs. There is a lot we can do there without a resolution but of course not militarily.

Q7. Colclough: How does the UNHCR coordinate with the International Organization on Migration, do they have joint projects in Libya?

Stelzer: The UNHCR has a strong mandate and therefore most of what they do is within that mandate, but yes they are permanently coordinating with UN safety and security expert’s who have the overall picture which helps integrate the country teams on the ground. They are permanently cooperating with the Human Rights people, with UNICEF, with the UNDP with UNHCR, with the world food programme which provides food for those who would otherwise starve. Then there is the International Organization on migration which is not joined with the UN but there is a lot of cooperation with one another. And so there is a lot of cooperation on the ground level with the UN country teams and also on a strategic level, because when we discuss these issues in the policy committee they all participate and contribute.

Dargatz: What I witness on the ground when working in Sudan is not so much a gap between the big agencies but rather a gap between the missions and the agencies. Which really goes on to an extent -nobody would say this officially of course, but it goes to an extent that some people say, ok these missions are there but let’s keep our courtyard clean let’s not cooperate too much. I see a particular problem in these terms of coordination; I don’t know what you perceive of this problem in New York?

Stelzer: Coordinating in the field is a very important issue but must be taken on a case specific basis. The Darfur environment for example is a very specific environment. In principal, we try to coordinate the actors on the ground because we don’t want fifty UN agencies to each arrive with their own car and the UN flag to a meeting; we would rather that one UN representative could coordinate and then come to weekly government meetings. We conceptualised based on the precept of delivering as one; one UN program, one UN house one UN budget and one UN representative who coordinates all the UN players on the ground as a so-called resident coordinator. The tendency in all of our efforts is to harmonise our input as much as is feasible. As you said, in Sudan this might be more difficult than in a more conducive environment but our principal goal is the same; to coordinate between the organizations and to deliver as one.

Q8. Wank: From my perspective, Humanitarian aid is one thing and long term sustainable involvement in different dimensions of international relations is the other. The key instrument in the future of the United Nations would be greater involvement of civil society in terms of re-shaping production and consumption patterns which is a very important thing in my opinion and also giving a voice to civil society. One dilemma that we can see now in Syria and Libya is that we have no idea how to approach civil society and my question is what can be done about that? When we talk about the reform of the UN, my point of view is that it should be a bottom up process, which should start at the end of the arms of the UN and should go up and define what is needed on the ground.

Stelzer: Well let’s start with the continuum between humanitarian aid and development. This is something we are very aware of and one of the solutions here is the so called peace building commission and the peace building support office; how do we help countries that come out of crisis to develop? How do we factor in sustainable aspects in this first phase of helping them to develop? To give you the example of Haiti; Haiti has been hit by this terrible earthquake which caused much more damage to Haiti than a similar earthquake caused in Chile because Haiti was a much more vulnerable society. Firstly the houses were built in much less stable ways, plus they had made themselves much more vulnerable to natural disasters because of deforestation. By cutting all their trees they made themselves extremely vulnerable. Every aspect of sustainability was missing in Haiti so to rebuild Haiti would not be an option. We would have to advise Haiti on how to do better in the future in all areas, politically also. Haiti had very weak civil society structures and functioned under an authoritarian regime for such a long time that when disaster struck we couldn’t really rely on the civil society activists and of course many of them were killed in the earthquake. So rebuilding Haiti would require a lot of sustainable strategies, starting with rebuilding the nutrition basis of the country, the economy, what can it produce. The Haitian economy before the earthquake consisted in its majority of remittances, money was sent back by Haitians abroad which was not sustainable. However, since very few opportunities had been created in the country many Haitians had left the country so how can you turn this around, create opportunities in the country? Medical supplies were very weak in Haiti because there was no incentive for doctors to stay there or to travel there. So this is a very complex situation with various different aspects; it is not enough to just provide humanitarian assistance indefinitely, you have to think when we can help the country to stand on its own feet and overcome its international dependency. Thousands of NGOs are working there, they all mean well but they have very little effect on the ground because nobody knows who’s there and nobody is cooperating. They all come in and do their stuff but it is very difficult to achieve any multiple effects because there is not enough structure, there is not enough government to coordinate all of these international efforts. Now there are new elections, new players in the field hopefully they will have a different approach. This situation arises in many countries, countries that come out of war or out of natural disasters. How do we observe this continuum from humanitarian assistance to long term investments?

Q9. Wank: In the end, new structures should start at the end of the arms of the UN. For example if you listen to a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, he or she will tell you that they don’t really trust the UN and its quite interesting because they say that the UN has actually created the problem and now they are trying to help us. That’s probably quite a narrow view but it raises the point. You talked about coherence in the actions of the different bodies of the United Nations, how do you think the UN will face that ambiguity in the future?

Stelzer: Much of it is perception of course, so how people perceive the work of the UN is very much dependent on action but not limited to it. The UN hasn’t created the problem, countries create the problem within the framework of the UN and the UN gets the blame. We have to accept that. In fact Kofi Annan once said that SG doesn’t just stand for secretary general but also scapegoat which is a fact of life, especially in that region. UNRWA, the organization that the UN created to support refugees is considered to be one of the only structures that provides long term assistance; we are the second biggest employer on the Gaza strip. We employ 30,000 teachers that are on pay-roll, without that there would be no education system in Gaza. Unfortunately we have not been able to contribute to a long term solution and there are reasons for that. first there is one Security Council member that has been constantly vetoing resolutions that might have pointed to solutions so it made it impossible for the Security Council to step forward. This is one of the most difficult issues we are facing and the UN is only one of the players in the so called quartet so we only take 25% of the blame.