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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Washington, D.C. (USA)

11 October 2007


Remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome, and for this opportunity to speak with you today. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a powerful force in the global economy. Your reputation for dynamism, vision and innovation is legendary. And your role as a driver of prosperity is admirable.

I come from a country that has always valued the dynamism epitomized by your organization. Belonging to relatively small nation, South Koreans have also come to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between a good foreign policy and good business policy. Since becoming Secretary-General of the United Nations this year, I have come to appreciate even more fully the importance of ties between the business community and the international community.

Indeed, I think the solutions to the great international challenges of our age are as likely to arise from private initiative as from government action or global treaties. That is why I want to focus today's remarks on perhaps the greatest such challenge we face: the unprecedented threat of climate change.

But before I do so, let me say just a few words about the broader relationship between commerce and the United Nations.

The business community has been active at the United Nations from our Organization's earliest days. And contrary to some caricature of the UN, the Organization has consistently remained a great friend and ally of global business.

For over six decades, we have supplied the “soft infrastructure” that makes international commerce possible. One of the great unsung achievements of the UN system is our effort to facilitate global economic activity and reduce transaction costs. I am proud of how this aspect of our work improves the functioning of the global economy. We help establish the norms and infrastructure for international business. Through our specialized agencies, we set the standards for everything from international air and maritime travel, to telecommunications and protecting intellectual property rights.

Whenever there is an outbreak of a communicable disease like avian flu, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization spring into action. On a more day-to-day basis, these bodies help set international standards for health care and food safety.

The UN's International Labour Organization promotes stronger partnerships between business and labor.

Our integrated peacekeeping missions, the newly created Peacebuilding Commission, and the UN Development Programme all strive to promote good governance, rule of law, and job creation policies in post-conflict settings.

And of course, the UN itself procures billions of dollars of goods and services for our humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.

In recent years, the UN has also reached out directly to the private sector. For instance, the Business Council for the United Nations promotes innovative business opportunities between its member companies and the United Nations. Through a network of partnerships in economic development, health, education, and technology, the Council tries to advance the common interest of the UN and business in bringing about a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Many of you are also familiar with the UN's Global Compact, the world's largest corporate citizenship initiative. Established in 1999, now with over four thousand members, the Compact challenged world business leaders to "embrace and enact" a set of universal principles within their sphere of influence in the areas of human rights, labor standards, the environment and fair competition.

Today, I wish to focus the rest of my talk on one of those three areas: our global environment and the threat of climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is currently no greater danger to our planet than climate change. By now, it is clear that this process is real, and that it is largely the result of human activity. Indeed, these questions have been conclusively settled by the world's scientists in the most recent Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

What remains unsettled is our response to this existential challenge. Indeed, this response itself presents many challenges. Let me clarify why:

The first challenge before us is the impact climate change is having on humanity, on our environment and on our ecosystems. This is the core global issue that we have to confront head on if we want to secure our future and the future of generations to come. The cost and the consequences, in both human and economic terms, will be far greater should we fail to act even now.

But to address this issue, we simultaneously need to face the challenge of a vision and leadership that can chart the way forward.

That is why, last month, I convened a high-level event on climate change at UN Headquarters in New York. Some 80 Heads of State or Government, as well as many other Ministers and senior officials, made the journey from all parts of the world to share their views on meeting this challenge. Their consensus views represent a major political commitment towards a break-through at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.

As a result, I now look with raised expectations towards the outcome at Bali. I hope it will help launch a comprehensive and time bound negotiation process that produces a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by 2012. The broad framework for such an agreement is clear: we need an enhanced global response to climate change, involving strong mitigation, large-scale adaptation, classical and innovative sources of financing, and an unprecedented push for developing and disseminating climate-friendly technologies.

We can promote economic growth, spur development and respond to climate change – this is not an either/or proposition. Your ability to determine investment flows gives you great influence over the pace of innovation, technological change and adaptation. In fact, by 2030, up to 86 per cent of all financial flows are expected to originate in the private sector. So I ask you all to take the lead on climate change. Action by US businesses is especially crucial because of your unrivalled financial resources as well as your leadership in technological innovation.

Indeed, innovative market mechanisms are one way of addressing climate change. I hope you will approach the carbon market as a major economic opening, one that has tripled in size to 30 billion dollars in just the past year alone. An expanded and improved carbon market is an essential part of the solution. You should view it as an opportunity to be rewarded and recognized for doing the environmentally sound thing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, I believe it is in our shared interest to address the challenge of climate change with all the leadership, vision and resources we can muster. Increasingly, “business as usual” is a business at risk. I am sure your creativity and inventiveness can face down this challenge.

At the same time, I recognize that businesses require clear, predictable and long-term rules, regulations and incentives to plan investment and growth strategies. This clarity may be somewhat lacking with respect to emission reduction regulations, but it is an area we are working actively to address.

Your need for clear rules, and your willingness to work towards a solution to the problem of climate change, needs to be clearly communicated to the negotiators and decision-makers who are set to gather at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. The international community is entering into an exciting "design phase" of the post-2012 regime and needs input from the business community on key design choices and policy options. You have to help fashion an agreement that is clear, has a long-term horizon, and utilizes market mechanisms and businesses.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot have some genuine disagreements on the preferred approach and methods to tackle climate change. It is also possible that we find that one size does not fit all, and that a flexible approach is needed.

But this is something we are prepared for. Indeed, at the UN we say we all have to act according to our common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we mean by this bit of “UN-speak” is that those who have benefited from industrialization for many years now, and have contributed more to the problem, now need to show leadership in addressing it. Moreover, those who have the technologies and the financial resources also have more capabilities, and thus responsibilities.

On the other hand, those countries which are only now industrializing should be offered incentives to commit to clean growth, so that their drive towards higher standards of living and poverty alleviation is not endangered.

Now this may appear to be a tall political order. But it is one which the business world can help deliver. After all, you can guide the developed world towards new and innovative solutions for their emissions burden. You can also supply the developing world with the kinds of clean solutions that sustain growth while protecting the environment. And I am sure you can do both profitably, to the benefit of your owners and shareholders, as well as our planet.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I urge every one of you to come join the increasing number of leaders who have already responded to the challenge of climate change. And I ask all of you to work with your Government, and the United Nations, in crafting a forceful yet flexible response to this global problem.

Nothing less than the future of our planet, and the well-being of all its people, hangs in the balance.

Thank you.