Ban Ki-moon’s signature contribution as secretary-general will be his stalwart advocacy of an effective international global climate agreement. While the bilateral agreement between the United States and China before the Paris summit was a crucial breakthrough, Mr. Ban worked hard and long to prepare the ground for multilateral progress.
In particular, he made an effective case that the major economies should act in and through the United Nations. His persuasiveness on that issue helped the U.S. and China find common ground, bringing 193 other countries into the Paris agreement.
Mr. Ban will also be remembered with gratitude for his role in the Sustainable Development Goals. He was able to put the U.N. in a stronger position than it has been in the past with regard to development, potentially leaving his successor with more room to tackle the next phase.
These two achievements have in common Mr. Ban’s innovative nurturing of bottom-up diplomacy, thus engaging political buy-in and resources from the member states.
As for the crucial business of promoting peace and security, it took Mr. Ban some time to get his footing on what is, of course, treacherous and shifting ground. But by the time he did so, he identified the core problems and diligently tried to apply effective measures.
While preparing to leave office, Mr. Ban has sought to eradicate the stain of refusing to admit responsibility for the outbreak of cholera in Haiti after the earthquake. His tardiness in that regard was regrettable, but he did the right thing in the end. It should also be remembered that he led a flexible and assertive response to the earthquake itself.
While confronting inherited and new challenges, the next secretary-general will be grateful to Ban Ki-moon for bringing a more inclusive set of states and other international actors together.
Strobe Talbott is president of The Brookings Institution.