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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

New York (USA)

26 June 2008


Address at the Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Japan Society and the 50th Anniversary of the Korea Society

[as prepared for delivery]

Mr. Richard Wood, President of the Japan Society, Mr. Evans Revere, President of the Korea Society Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

I am moved and honoured to be with you this evening, and to offer my warmest congratulations on this double anniversary. I am especially impressed with the age of the Japan Society. You are not only older than anyone in this room, but almost 40 years older than the United Nations.

Both Societies share a mission with the UN: to promote international understanding and harmony. You prioritize diplomacy, and have firmly established the Societies as authoritative fora in active and inter-active discussions on issues concerning Northeast Asia as a whole. And you provide a lively meeting place for ideas on the global challenges of our time -- challenges where the role of Japan, Korea and Asia as a whole will be critical in the next few years.

It is about those global challenges I want to speak to you this evening, on the eve of my departure for Japan, the Republic of Korea and China.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ties that bind our common humanity together are fraying. Energy prices threaten to divide our world and our societies ever more sharply into “haves” and “have-nots”. Climate change hurts all of us, yet risks driving us into two camps: those who pollute, and those who suffer. The price of food could rip societies apart, community from community, neighbour from neighbour. And the disparities in health care systems around the world have the power to separate not only rich from poor, but healthy from chronically sick.

And yet, we are not fated to watch our world disintegrate, devolving into the law of the jungle. We can renew the ties that bind, asserting our common interests, our common ideals, and our common humanity.

How can we do this? We can do it through the United Nations. As the world's only universal organization, the UN is uniquely placed to provide us with the tools to address these global issues. It can link countries one to another, region to region, neighbour to neighbour, public to private, rich to poor.

But however skilled our staff or global our reach, the UN cannot be left alone to find common solutions and bridge national interests. We need dedicated, bold, and sustained leadership from Governments working together in a common, universal framework. We need countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea to offer concrete measures to address three pressing, inter-related challenges: the global food crisis, climate change, and the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals by the deadline of 2015.

We have seen how the food crisis is straining human bonds. Prices are skyrocketing, due to a range of factors: escalating energy prices, lack of investment in agriculture and extreme weather patterns; trade-distorting subsidies and other policy choices; increasing demand due to population growth, urbanization, and changing consumption habits.

The crisis is having the greatest impact on the most vulnerable countries and vulnerable people. Ties between neighbouring States are being worn down, as those with food restrict the supply to those without. Ties between Governments and their citizens are coming under stress, as populations protest when they cannot sustain their standards of living. And even the ties within families are being brutally challenged, as parents are forced into choices no parent should have to make -- which child to feed, which to let go hungry, and which other basic needs to forgo.

When the Group of Eight leaders meet in Hokkaido next month, they have a moral obligation to support the UN's efforts to address the food crisis, in the short-, medium-, and long-term. But they also have a self-interested motivation. If not addressed, high food prices may drive more than 100 million more people into poverty. If the crisis is not brought under control, it risks unleashing large population movements, instability and inflation throughout the world.

So we look to world leaders, including Japan and the Republic of Korea, to do a number of things to ease the crisis on food.

First, deliver on a full range of immediate food assistance needs over the next 18 months. In addition to meeting all World Food Programme appeals, we need to replenish the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund.

Second, minimize export restrictions and levies on food commodities. Lift immediately all the restrictions on humanitarian food supplies; and cut agricultural subsidies in developed countries to free new resources for agricultural investment in low income, food insecure countries.

Third, increase the share of Official Development Assistance for agricultural production and rural development from its current level of three per cent to a new level of 10 per cent, without diverting funds from existing education or health budgets.

Even before the food crisis threatened to divide us, the erosive impact of climate change on our common humanity was becoming evident. Pitting nation against nation or neighbour against neighbour is useless in the face of this threat. We will all, rich and poor, suffer from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, the collapse of eco-systems and amplified health risks.

Much was achieved at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali last December. We must press forward to achieve the agreement that the world expects and needs. Developed countries must lead the way in the negotiations, given their historical responsibility for the bulk of carbon emissions and in light of the agreed principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. With the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen less than 18 months away, the future of the planet is literally at stake.

Here too, we look to Japan and the Republic of Korea to show real leadership.

First, we look to you to focus on what must be delivered by this December in Poznan. This includes a shared vision of what a new agreement will look like -- one that addresses all the building blocks agreed to in Bali; strengthening or creating new financial mechanisms to assist developing countries in implementing past and future agreements on adaptation and mitigation needs; a fully financed and operational Adaptation Fund; and concrete illustrations of the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries.

Second, we look to you to promote agreement in Copenhagen, not only on long-term goals for reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, but also on short- and medium-term targets in the context of UNFCCC negotiations. These are essential for market forces to provide the financing and technological changes required.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year we pass the halfway point in the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals, the vision adopted by all the world's Governments for building a better world in the 21st century. Failure to meet the key Goals by the deadline in 2015 would deal a devastating blow to the trust forged between the developed and developing world, as well as between Governments and their citizens.

Some progress has been made, but many countries remain off track -- particularly in Africa. In addition to poverty and climate change, our focus must be on health.

In the short time that I have been speaking tonight, 10 mothers have died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. That is 10 mothers too many. Maternal health is not only the slowest moving target of the Millennium Development Goals; setbacks in this area hold back progress on many of the other Goals. We must invest in health systems to ensure that it is safer for mothers to give birth.

Equally unacceptably, malaria kills at least one million people a year. These deaths can be prevented -- through bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide, indoor residual spraying, public health facilities providing effective treatment and diagnosis, and rapid expansion of community and home-based case management. Most important, these measures will dramatically cut mortality rates among the most vulnerable -- pregnant women and children under five in Africa.

Nor can we accept that more than one billion people -- one sixth of the world's population -- suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases. We cannot accept it because these diseases could be eradicated if treatment were scaled up in the poorest countries. And if we did that, we would have a powerful strategy for tackling conditions that promote poverty.

Again, we look to countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea to act on a number of fronts.

First, deliver on agreed targets for Official Development Assistance, particularly for Africa. Donors should provide schedules country by country for how they will scale up their aid.

Second, build comprehensive primary health care systems. These provide the backbone for all health interventions. We need to increase and sustain investment for training and supporting the health workforce -- community health workers in particular.

Third, reduce maternal mortality by ensuring universal access to reproductive health, and by pushing for the collection of accurate gender-specific data. An additional 10 billion dollars a year would ensure coverage of basic services for maternal, newborn, and children's health.

Fourth, mobilize action against AIDS, Malaria, TB and neglected tropical diseases in Africa, including by funding 120 million desperately needed insecticide-treated bet-nets.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What I have described requires a collective effort. They are not separate endeavours, to be pursued by separate ministries, organizations, or NGOs. And they require leadership at the highest level, which only world leaders themselves can mobilize.

We must pull together the various strands of our work on food security, climate change, and the Millennium Development Goals, because we cannot successfully address these challenges in isolation. The United Nations can serve as the multilateral platform for implementing concrete actions on all of them.

I look to Japan and Korea to share their visionary thinking and their know-how to help us advance towards our goal.

Finally, let me say a few words inspired by the joint celebration we mark tonight. This joint project is a symbol of contemporary Northeast Asia -- a region that is beginning to work together in many areas of common interest and concern.

I applaud the dynamic of Japan, Korea and China increasingly looking to their common future as friendly neighbours with global interests and responsibilities. I wholeheartedly welcome their agreement to hold their first trilateral summit, and also to cooperate on climate change, the food and energy crisis, and assistance to Africa. All three are working together as part of the multilateral six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a process that carries the most realistic promise to defuse one of the gravest security threats in the region. All these issues are central to the United Nations. It is only natural and indeed necessary that this evolving trilateral partnership and the UN work together.

On this optimistic and forward-looking note, I wish these two remarkable Societies further success in their noble mission.

Thank you very much.