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Recognizing Kofi Annan’s work on climate change

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General who died on Saturday, was most known as the consummate statesman, a “secular pope” who used his quiet but forceful manner and compassion to give new vigour to the United Nations institutions.


Perhaps less mentioned in the numerous obituaries across the world was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s campaigning over climate change. He helped establish the Millennium Development Goals and after leaving the United Nations, in 2007 he set up Kofi Annan Foundation, which promotes sustainable development, peace and security.


In 2015, he warned the world risked reaching climatic tipping points. He called on a “holistic approach” that takes account of the impacts of climate changesomething dear to the heart of our scientists who work at Future Earth. His linking of climate change to human security helped pave the way for the concept of the Sustainability Development Goals.


I had the great pleasure of working with Kofi Annan back in 2010, when I was at Google, to tell the human story of the climate crisis through visual tools. This was one of the first generation Google Earth Tours. Kofi knew it was early days with this story telling technology, but he was eager to experiment with engaging the world on critical issues of security, justice and sustainability. He had such a wise, graceful and powerful presence. I feel honored to have had a chance to work with him.  


Looking back over his life, we can perhaps best honour his memory by remembering his inherent optimism that people and governments can change for the better through compassion, diplomacy and the force of scientific evidence.