Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to the North American Invitational Model UN

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Washington, D.C. (USA), 14 February 2008

Madam Secretary-General,

Thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here and to see such a large and enthusiastic group of young adults engaged in global issues. Let me recognize the Georgetown International Relations Association for successfully organizing one of the largest Model United Nations in North America.

Dear delegates,

I was your age when I first came to Washington. As part of an American Red Cross programme, I visited the White House and shook hands with President Kennedy. It was an unforgettable , inspiring experience for a young person like me. It gave me an insight into the workings of the American government, and the ideals of its democracy. That, in turn, helped inspire me to a life of public service.

And this path led inevitably to the United Nations. As a child of the Korean war, I grew up viewing the United Nations as a saviour; an organization which helped my country, South Korea, recover and rebuild from a devastating conflict. Because of decisions taken under the UN flag, 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 friends, 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.

Today, millions more benefit from the work of our Organization. Every day and on a wide range of issues, the world turns to the UN to deliver vital goods and services. 120,000 brave men and women serve as peacekeepers in 18 missions worldwide. Another 13 field missions are engaged in conflict prevention and mediation support. The UN's various Funds and Programmes provide and channel billions of dollars to combat poverty and disease amongst populations most in need. Human rights officers are posted around the world protecting the dignity of every child, man and woman. In every corner of the globe, the UN is the primary provider of assistance to the more than 10 million refugees and 2 million internally displaced persons affected by man-made and natural disasters.

And we are constantly asked to do more – in more spheres of activity, in more locations, and in more challenging circumstances. This surge in demand is not only a sign of the pressing needs in the world today, but also of the increasing recognition that major global challenges can best be addressed collectively, through the world's only truly universal organization.

And the United Nations is uniquely placed to lead the effort to address this next generation of global challenges – those that affect all Member States and their people, and cannot be solved without action by all Member States. Climate change is a perfect example. There is a shared sense of urgency to act now. It is not too late, but we are running out of time.

Everyone has a role to play. From recycling and cutting down on waste to encouraging your schools and communities to invest in eco-friendly initiatives, you can and should be working to reduce your carbon footprint. And you have the power to make your voice heard. As I personally witnessed at the UN climate talks last December in Bali, Indonesia, the people of the world, including youth, were instrumental in mobilizing governments to agree to a timeframe for a post-Kyoto agreement.

This year in particular holds special significance for the UN. At the midpoint of the race to the Millennium Development Goals we face a development emergency, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where not a single country is on track to achieve the MDGs. We must bridge this implementation gap, and the youth of the world, equipped with online mobilization tools, are uniquely placed to contribute to this. 2008 also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we must rededicate ourselves to the urgency of bringing human rights to all people everywhere.

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am personally invested in ensuring that citizens around the world understand the UN – as an Organization, for its work in addressing critical global challenges, and as the face of the world's people.

Programmes such as the Model United Nations are unique in providing an insight into these three aspects. As you go through this conference, I encourage you to proceed with courage in tackling the toughest issues, while always aiming to build consensus. Above all, conduct yourself with diplomatic grace. Conduct your model UN negotiations as if you were dealing with real world challenges. By doing so, at the end of the weekend, I trust that you will emerge as ambassadors of the UN, with a deep appreciation of the challenges of international diplomacy and ready to ably communicate the work and mission of the Organization. The only difference between you and myself is that I'm doing a real-world job. But I'm confident that some of you will surely do in the future what I'm doing now.

The world needs bold and compassionate young leaders. Your creativity, energy, and intellect are essential for tackling today and tomorrow's global challenges.

I wish you all the best for this weekend.

Thank you.