Sitting in the rotunda of Lehigh’s Linderman Library Monday, the European Union’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, discussed global challenges with Lehigh students, including the war in Ukraine and climate change, and what the European Union is trying to do about them.
Skoog, a Swedish diplomat, was welcomed to campus by Provost Nathan Urban. His visit was part of Lehigh’s annual UN Ambassador Speaker series.
The UN is a “fascinating but also complicated place,” Skoog told the Lehigh students, many of whom were studying international affairs.
“If you want to get an instant image of where the world's at, there's no better place than to just spend a day or two or a week in the UN because the people you interact with are all coming from all parts of the world,” he said. “But what you also realize is how different the priorities are, depending on what country you speak to.”
He said, for example, the people of Estonia, a country that is part of the European Union, will talk a lot about “what a traumatic situation is going on in Ukraine, and how they feel based on their historic relations with Russia and the Soviet Union, how they fear for their own existence as a free country.”
The people of Vanuatu, a country in the South Pacific, he said, will share concerns about climate change. “For them, the future is extremely uncertain because of the sea level rise coming from climate change,” he said. “Some of their neighbors in the Pacific are busy thinking about where will they be in 20 or 30 years when their country mass may be covered by water.”
He said the UN tries to help countries find solutions to their specific challenges.
“And I will not hide from you that the last year and a half has been extremely busy for us Europeans in trying to push back Russia and stand up for Ukraine's independence and sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Skoog said.
In February, the UN General assembly overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution that called for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
A question-and-answer followed with Lehigh students, who asked a range of questions, including how Skoog juggles his responsibilities as EU ambassador as well as his advice for students who want to be meaningfully engaged in world matters and influence decision-making.
Earlier in the day, as part of his visit to Lehigh, the ambassador was presented with a gold level certification award in recognition of the EU Mission to the UN’s completion of the evaluation process for the Greening of the UN Missions Initiative. The initiative is collaboration between Lehigh and the UN Environment Programme.
Lehigh gained non-governmental organization (NGO) status with the United Nations nearly 20 years ago. To date, more than 50 students have interned at the UN and more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff have attended UN conferences and meetings annually.
Skoog has served as the Permanent Representative of the EU to the United Nations in New York since 2019. He had served as the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN from 2015 to 2019, during which time he was the President of the United Nations Security Council for the months of January 2017 and July 2019. He previously served as the Swedish Ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama, and as the EU Ambassador to Indonesia, Brunei, and ASEAN.