Ban Ki-moon's speeches


Remarks at the William Waldo Cameron Forum on Public Affairs at the George Bush Presidential Library

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, College Station (Texas, USA), 29 February 2008

It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight. It’s good to be here in Texas -- my first visit as Secretary-General to the Lone Star State.

It is a particular honour to be with you at the George Bush Presidential Library. I’ve always admired this American President -- a great foreign policy President and a long friend of the United Nations.

As you all know, he served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He was the man whose good judgement and diplomatic skill served the world so well when the Berlin wall came down and Germany was reunited, creating the Europe of today.

What you might not know, is that, as Vice-President under Ronald Reagan, he had an alter ego. When I was a mid-career grad student at the Kennedy School in 1984, we conducted a mock crisis meeting of the National Security Council -- and I chaired as Vice-President Bush. I was a real power!

Let me mention something else you might not know. When Mr. and Mrs. Bush visited Seoul in 2000, as a former President and First Lady, I was among the delegation to receive them at the airport. We all scrambled to help them with their luggage as they climbed off their special plane. “No, No, Minister,” he told me. “We can carry our own bags.” And they did.

In Korea, this was unheard of. Aides carried bags, not statesmen. I saw this as a measure of the man -- modest, decent, down-to-earth, unaffected by power.

Tonight, this is a family affair. Last October, some of you may have heard Jenna Bush speak here about her experiences working with AIDS patients for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Latin America. Her cousin Lauren helps raise money for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which last year fed 70 million people in 80 countries.

The United Nations has no better friend than America. According to opinion polls, three quarters of Americans believe the United Nations should play a larger role in the world. Most Americans want United States foreign policy to be conducted in partnership with the United Nations.

Why? Because working together is in the best interest of the United States. It’s in the best interest of the United Nations and the best interest of the world.

As a boy growing up in South Korea, I was inspired by America and its noble ideals. American soldiers saved my country from communist aggression. They were so friendly to me and so generous. I’m still grateful for the sacrifice the American people made for my nation.

As Secretary-General, I appreciate more than ever the importance of working together. The United States needs the United Nations, the world’s only truly global institution. And the United Nations needs the United States to reach our shared objectives.

Let’s begin with Darfur. A few years ago, not many people had heard of this dusty corner of Africa. Today, Americans are calling for action to end a conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and forced 2.2 million from their homes. President [George W.] Bush -- 43 -- has been a leader in this campaign. We are working together.

We are about to deploy 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, the largest mission in our history. You can imagine how tough it will be. You’ve heard of the Janjaweed militia. You’ve read about the rapes, the killings, the abductions. People are fleeing across the border to Chad, but there’s fighting there too. Attacks on humanitarian workers are frequent. It has become more and more difficult to get aid to people living without hope in refugee camps.

That’s the quick snapshot. But I want to tell you briefly how I see this picture. It’s a case study in complexity. Peacekeeping is only part of the equation. We need a peace process as well. That means getting all the various factions around the table so the fighting can stop.

Darfur is also about climate change. People forget how much the conflict has been exacerbated by drought. Years ago, when the rains failed, herders and farmers began fighting over an increasingly scarce resource. If we don’t deal with the issue of water in Darfur, if we don’t deal with the issues of poverty, disease and development and the other factors at the root of this conflict, then there’s no solution at all.

Let’s talk more about climate change. You have seen the pictures of melting glaciers and polar bears swimming in a warming Arctic Sea. Like many of you young people in this audience, I like to go see things for myself. So I went to Antarctica.

Did you know that in the Antarctic, ice sheets the size of Rhode Island have broken off and vanished within a matter of weeks? In the Andes, I saw melting glaciers with my own eyes. In Brazil, I was supposed to take a boat trip down a major tributary of the Amazon River. It had dried up. Huge areas of the eastern rain forest will turn into savannah within the next couple decades. In Africa, I flew over Lake Chad, a body of water that supports 30 million people. It has shrunk to a tenth the size it was three decades ago.

This is a big problem. No single nation can tackle it alone. It requires a world effort, and that’s where the United Nations comes in. That’s what we do: we pull people together to find common solutions to our common problems. This is our planet Earth. We want to leave to future generations a more hospitable, environmentally sustainable world.

The United Nations has worked to highlight the crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international consortium of more than 2,000 scientists, shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. They proved beyond doubt that global warming is real, and that humankind is the cause. We have organized meetings of leaders around the world, most recently at the December climate change summit in Bali.

Scientists tell us the time for action was yesterday. But, if we act now, it may not be too late.

Here’s what America can and must do, and it’s a quintessentially American approach. That’s because markets, technology and entrepreneurship are a big part of the solution.

As I see it, solving the problem of climate change is tied to the world’s economic future. We’ve seen major transformations in the past: the industrial revolution; the technology revolution; our modern era of globalization. Now we’re on the brink of another -- an era of “green economics”, where protecting the environment and fighting climate change helps spur investment and boosts economic growth.

Visiting Silicon Valley last summer, I saw how venture capital is pouring into new technologies for renewable energy and fuel efficiency. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that investments in clean energy technology could reach $1.9 trillion by 2020.

In the United States, more than 5.3 million jobs were created in the environmental industry in 2005. That’s 10 times the number generated by the pharmaceutical industry. In Germany, more people will soon be employed in green technology than in the automobile industry.

Texas is renowned as an oil capital. Less well known is how much you are part of this new technological wave. Austin is on the brink of becoming the premier solar manufacturing centre in the United States. And many of you may have seen the front page of last weekend’s New York Times, describing how Texas is emerging as a world leader in wind power. Think of T. Boone Pickens, the legendary wildcatter, investing billions in a wind farm. That’s the future.

The bottom line is this: fighting global warming doesn’t have to be a cost. It can be a huge economic opportunity. To make it so, we need America’s help. You, here in this room, have to be part of the solution.

I could go on. The list of the world’s problems seems endless. Terrorism. Nuclear proliferation. Worldwide hunger and disease. Conflict in the Middle East. Global poverty.

It is intolerable that one child dies every five seconds of hunger in this world. It is intolerable that, every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Also every minute, a young life is cut short by measles, a disease we know how to prevent.

In the face of such complex and seemingly overwhelming challenges, the temptation might be to throw up our hands, to give into pessimism and focus on our own lives.

I see it differently. All these problems come to our door at the United Nations, yet I am a resolute optimist. The key, I have found, is to see the interconnections between these problems.

Look at Africa. Usually, we think of it as a landscape of conflict and hunger, disease and drought. But imagine if you can help local farmers to protect their communities, or help them have clean water. Then they’ll produce more food. Children with enough food can grow and learn. With proper nourishment, everyone is less prone to disease. People can work. Pretty soon, family incomes go up. Children start going to school. Societies become productive and whole again.

Hunger and poverty cause conflict. That is why I am putting renewed energy into the Millennium Development Goals, our worldwide effort to reduce poverty by half by the year 2015. By tackling these fundamental problems, we promote security. Dealing with one problem, once you see the interconnections, can be the way to solving others. Economic development is the key to everything.

That’s why we need a strong United Nations, a United Nations that works. And we need a United Nations that moves in full partnership with the United States. Because, in my view, the world needs United States leadership. Little can be achieved without it. You young people in this room -- I say this most of all to you.

And because we need a strong United Nations, we need to change the United Nations. Since day one, I’ve been working to shake up the bureaucracy, to make it more nimble and adapt to our fast-paced world. The United Nations Charter calls for the “highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity”. I take these words to heart. I am working for a culture of ethics and accountability at the United Nations to show that we are answerable to all countries and all people.

We all know the value of leadership and sound judgement. We all recognize how fast our world is changing and the premium that places on engagement and partnership. Thank you, therefore, for your support -- past and future!

I look forward to your questions. Let’s have a great conversation.