|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
SECRETARY-GENERAL, ADDRESSING STUDENT CONFERENCE, COMPARES CHALLENGE
OF CLIMATE CHANGE TO COLD WAR-ERA NUCLEAR THREAT
Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the United Nations International School-United Nations Conference on “Global Warming: Confronting the Crisis”, in New York, today, 1 March:
Welcome to the United Nations. It is immensely gratifying for me to see so many young faces in this General Assembly Hall. Here in this building, there is often talk about future generations and how best to serve them. Yet, it is a rare pleasure to actually welcome some of tomorrow’s leaders to today’s United Nations.
Walking into this Hall right now, I felt the sense of possibility and openness that all of you breathe into this space. You are unburdened by political agendas. You are free of restrictive governmental mandates. Indeed, your gathering symbolizes much of what is best about the United Nations: people of all nations and varied viewpoints coming together to deliberate and deliver on the foremost issues confronting the world.
Over these two days, as you consider the challenge of climate change, I am confident that your discussions will benefit from the sense of history and consequence permeating this chamber. But, I also believe that your energy can help inspire your older counterparts -- such as myself.
As you know, I am somewhat new to the United Nations system, having taken over as Secretary-General at the beginning of this year. In fact, I must confess to you that this is my first address on this podium as Secretary-General of the United Nations since I was elected. I have been waiting already two months, but there has been no General Assembly officially, and I am still waiting for an official General Assembly presentation in this august body. But, believe it or not, after two months, this is my first time to address any group of people on this podium since I was sworn in on 14 December.
Yet, like you, I started to identify with this Organization and its ideals at a very early age. A child of the Korean War, I grew up viewing the United Nations as a saviour; an organization which helped my country, the Republic of Korea, recover and rebuild from a devastating conflict. Because of decisions taken in this building, my country was able to grow and prosper in peace. This prosperity, in turn, helped a boy from rural Korea to rise up through his country’s diplomatic ranks and eventually become Secretary-General of the United Nations.
So, dear delegates, you may say that I not only believe passionately in the mission of the United Nations to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, I have benefited directly from it.
Yet, if there is one crucial difference between the era I grew up in, and the world you inherit, it is of the relative dangers we face. For my generation, coming of age at the height of the cold war, fear of a nuclear winter seemed the leading existential threat on the horizon.
Today, war continues to threaten countless men, women and children across the globe. It is the source of untold suffering and loss. And the majority of the UN’s work still focuses on preventing and ending conflict. But, the danger posed by war to all of humanity -- and to our planet -- is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.
By now, I believe that the world has reached a critical stage in its efforts to exercise responsible environmental stewardship. Despite our best intentions and some admirable efforts to date, degradation of the global environment continues unabated, and the world’s natural resource base is being used in an unsustainable manner.
Moreover, the effects of climate change are being felt around the world. The latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has established a strong link between human activity and climate change. The Panel’s projections suggest that all countries will feel the adverse impact. But, it is the poor -- in Africa, small island developing States and elsewhere -- who will suffer most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming.
That is why action on climate change will be one of my top priorities as Secretary-General. I am encouraged to know that, in the industrialized countries from which leadership is most needed, awareness is growing. In increasing numbers, decision makers are recognizing that that the cost of inaction or delayed action will far exceed the short-term investments needed to address this challenge.
The success of An inconvenient Truth suggests that, even amongst the broader public, climate change is no longer an “inconvenient” issue, it is an inescapable reality. As participants in the global carbon-based economy, all of us are part of this grave and growing problem. Now, each one of us also needs to commit to the search for solutions. We have to change the way we live, and rethink the way we travel and transact business.
By your presence here, you are clearly ready to take up this challenge. I know that your discussions will consider ways to mitigate global warming, and I am confident that you will take those lessons to heart.
One of the issues I hope you will consider is the urgent need to reframe the debate on climate change. Till now, this phenomenon has largely been viewed in isolation as an environmental issue. Yet, it is fast becoming increasingly clear, in North and South alike, that there is an inextricable, mutually dependent relationship between environmental sustainability and economic development.
Global warming has profound implications for jobs, growth and poverty. It affects agricultural output, the spread of disease and migration patterns. It determines the ferocity and frequency of natural disasters. It can prompt water shortages, degrade land and lead to the loss of biodiversity. And, in coming decades, changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals -- from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable lands -- are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict.
These issues transcend borders. That is why protecting the world’s environment is largely beyond the capacity of individual countries. Only concerted and coordinated international action -- supported and sustained by individual initiative -- will be sufficient. The natural arena for such action is the United Nations.
I am strongly committed to ensuring that the United Nations helps the international community make the transition to sustainable practices. We are preparing for a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali in December. More broadly, the UN family is mobilizing all its efforts to address the many challenges posed by global warming. I plan to strengthen this work further.
Much more must also be done by Governments, business and civil society. This June, I plan to attend the summit meeting of the Group of 8 (G-8) industrialized nations, known as the G-8, where I shall discuss the issue of climate change with global leaders. The world needs a more coherent system of international environmental governance. We need to invest more in green technologies and smarter policies. And we need to do far more to adapt to global warming and its effects. There are growing opportunities for innovative businesses to spur progress and innovation through products that push all of us onto more sustainable paths. But, our efforts should focus particularly on the needs of the poor, who already suffer disproportionately from pollution, disasters and the degradation of resources and land. In particular, plans to implement the Millennium Development Goals should address the added risks posed by climate change.
We are all complicit in the process of global warming. Unsustainable practices are deeply entrenched in our everyday lives. But, in the absence of decisive measures, the true cost of our actions will be borne by succeeding generations, starting with yours.
That would be an unconscionable legacy; one which we must all join hands to avert. As it stands, the damage already inflicted on our ecosystem will take decades -- perhaps centuries -- to reverse; if we act now.
Unfortunately, my generation has been somewhat careless in looking after our one and only planet. But, I am hopeful that is finally changing. And I am also hopeful that your generation will prove far better stewards of our environment; in fact, looking around this hall today, I have a strong sense that you already are.
In that spirit, let me wish all of you a very successful and informative Conference.
* *** *For information media • not an official record