16 April 2009
Secretary-General
SG/SM/12187

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES CONFERENCE TO CONSIDER ADOPTING ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES


THAT PROMOTE HEALTH BENEFITS TO HELP TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE, FOOD INSECURITY


Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the eighteenth International Conference on Health and Environment, in New York, 15‑16 April:


It is a pleasure to greet all the participants in this international conference.


You gather to mark 23 years since the Chernobyl disaster.  In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, our minds were on the lives lost and damaged, and on the environmental impact.  But the incident also imposed a terrible long-term health burden.  In the three countries surrounding epicentre of the incident, more than 5,000 additional thyroid cancers in children can be attributed to radiation from Chernobyl.


Such fallout caused support for nuclear power to plummet, at both the popular and political levels.  Yet now, with the threat of climate change and the search for low- or no-carbon energy sources, nuclear power is again in the headlines.  It is clear that viable alternatives to fossil fuels are needed -- and soon.  We must weigh carefully all considerations, from science to public health and safety, taking into account the full range of benefits and risks involved.  This conference and its subject matter are therefore very timely indeed.


Chernobyl led to revised safety standards in all operating nuclear power plants.  The international community also learned that nuclear emergencies require the highest level of coordination among a wide range of agencies and actors.  We saw that we do indeed need global partners for global solutions.


We are also beginning to learn more about alternative sources of energy.  Biofuels, for example, which seemed so attractive at first, may have important negative consequences, such as diminished food security, since land given over to biofuels is land taken out of food production.


In developing policy for health and the environment, we should be driven not only by the goal of avoiding harm to human health, vital as that objective is.  We should go further and adopt environmental policies that promote health benefits.  We have done this successfully in the architecture of new cities.  We should do the same as we tackle the inter-related challenges of climate change, public health, food security and growing energy demands.


I thank the Government of Ukraine and all others involved in making this conference possible.  Please accept my best wishes for the success of your deliberations.


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For information media • not an official record