LectureHop: It Wasn’t Kofi’s Fault

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Bwog contributor Peter Krawczyk rappelled into Low yesterday to hear the former UN secretary-general sponsor an awkward video.

kofi annan world economic forum

If celebrity-drenched collaboration/mega-remix music videos didn’t die in the 1990’s, then Sacha Baron Cohen finally killed them with the nauseating end of Bruno. Apparently, PrezBo’s favorite Columbia Global Fellow (and two-term UN Secretary-General) Kofi Annan missed that memo because he decided to overshadow his talk on Climate Change in Low on Wednesday by following it with the first public showing of a music video organized by the Global Humanitarian Forum featuring Duran Duran, Marion Cotillard and Fergie, among many others.

But first things first.

Annan served as Secretary-General of the UN for ten years, leaving at the end of 2006.  He was lauded for his achievements in his first term, winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  His second term was marked by conflict with the US over Iraq. In 2004 he publicly criticized the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, leading several American conservatives to call for his resignation.  The cloud eventually cleared but tensions remained.

After leaving the UN, he led an African Union envoy to help broker a peace deal following the disputed Kenyan elections in 2008. As President Bollinger was eager to point out in his introduction, Annan was named an inaugural Columbia Global Fellow in May, meaning he will seek to “provide firsthand knowledge of experiences in the life of an international or public figure to students. Notably, on the official billing for the lecture, “Columbia Global Fellow” was listed above “Former UN Secretary-General”. The Prez also referred to Mr. Annan as “Kofi” in his introduction, no doubt to stress just how chummy they had become.

Annan used the speech to call for leadership among nations in order to stop climate change. He was quick to point that time is limited. “We now know that unless we quickly arrest rising temperatures, climate change will become irreversible with catastrophic results,” he said. Leadership in reducing carbon emissions, he emphasized, must come from industrialized nations, calling the US, as the world’s largest per-capita source of emissions, “the indispensible nation”. He praised Obama’s vision regarding climate change and criticized his domestic detractors, saying, “It would be tragic if his willingness to lead on the global stage was undermined at home.”

However, Annan also called upon emerging economies and less-developed countries to be mindful of their emissions, according to what he called the “polluter-pays” principle. According to Annan, countries such as China, India and Brazil should not be forced to hinder their economic growth for the sake of climate change, but neither should they be permitted to emit carbon according to a “business-as-usual scenario”. The least developed countries, he said, should be allowed to develop their economies so long as they did not have a corresponding increase in emissions.

Finally, Annan called for leadership outside of politics. He urged that business people, academics, and young people all have an important part to play in fighting climate change. He concluded with a call to the students of Columbia. “Your leadership and action will decide the health and happiness of millions of people across the globe,” he said. “It is a big responsibility.”

The kitschy video
began with a melodramatic voiceover by Mr. Annan, then broke into a revamped version of the 80s hit “Beds are Burning” by the Australian rock group Midnight Oil. (The name of the new song, according to Agence France-Presse, is titled “Beds’r Burning.” How much thought was put into the new name was not initially clear.) The band rewrote some of the lyrics to focus on Climate Change for the new track, but the song was sung by a multitude of celebrities (past and present) wearing huge studio headphones and singing into covered microphones—an image that is apparently de rigueur for the genre. These images are then displayed within the video projected onto the walls of a NYC-esque urban dystopia between graffiti apparently so fresh that it’s actually still dripping. The polite applause in the room following the showing was somewhat tepid, but SIPA dean and acting emcee John Coatsworth was quick to thank Annan for his “indescribably effective music.” Annan, for his part, looked somewhat amused throughout the video portion of the program.

The video (here’s a preview) was commissioned by the Global Humanitarian Forum, which Annan chairs, in order to promote the “Tck Tck Tck” campaign to urge cooperation among nations at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year. It will officially debut October 1 in Paris, after which the song will be available as a free download . How effective the video will be among Earth Institute-types remains to be seen.

Before breaking into the world of ironic hipsterdom, Annan did give a successful, if not earth-shatteringly unprecedented speech on the risks of Climate Change and the actions needed to address it.

We just have to wonder who, then, made the decision to put that responsibility into Fergie’s vocal cords.

Photos via Flickr and YouTube


  1. Good  

    As an attendee of this event, I think this is a very good and fair review. I will take the liberty of saying, however, what the author is dancing around: the video sucked. The song was bad, it was clearly a forced connection to climate change, and the lack of any truly notable celebrities made it clear that no one with a reputation to uphold wanted to sign onto this project.

    Kofi Annan is awesome. His new media advisers...not so much.

  2. critical thought

    This is false: “We now know that unless we quickly arrest rising temperatures, climate change will become irreversible with catastrophic results” There is considerable uncertainty about the degree and causes of climate change.

    • further thought  

      To further #2's skepticism, there are climate scientists that are actually concerned about a global *cooling* rather than warming. If concerns about cooling are true (which is debatable), then this whole movement of cutting emissions is simply undermining economic growth badly needed in developing countries. Going green requires a lot of "green".

  3. it was nice of you  

    not to mention that when they listed Fergie as one of the notable celebrities....everyone laughed.

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