At Harvard University, Ban issues call to action to tackle today’s crises

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Graham Allison of Harvard University

21 October 2008 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today issued a call to action to address the challenges of climate change, global health, terrorism, financial instability and disarmament, all of which are key to securing the common good in a time of global crises.

“We come together today at a time of intense crisis – unrelenting waves buffeting the world’s people and institutions,” Mr. Ban told students and faculty at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The Secretary-General noted that some people thought he had been overly dramatic a few months ago when he spoke of a ‘triple crisis’ of soaring food and fuel prices, accelerating climate change, and stalled development for over a billion of the world’s people.

“Today, with increased evidence of the effects of all three crises around the globe, compounded by the ongoing shock waves of the financial crisis, my call to arms now seems distant and all too modest,” he stated.

“Now more than ever we must be bold. In these times of crisis, when we are tempted to look inward, it is precisely the time when we must move pursuit of the common good to the top of the agenda,” said Mr. Ban, adding that this involves addressing five global challenges.

Turning first to the current financial turmoil, the Secretary-General noted that “the same threads of globalization that united us in the good times, are now biting deep in the bad times, especially for those who can least afford it.

“While recently we have heard much in this country about how problems on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street, we need to think more about those people around the world with no streets. Wall Street, Main Street, no street – the solutions devised must be for all,” he stressed.

In addition, the world cannot afford to delay action on the issue of climate change, which Mr. Ban called “the ultimate global and existential threat.” He urged countries to conclude a new comprehensive climate deal that can be ratified and in place before the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

Global health is another “great challenge of our time,” said the Secretary-General, noting that diseases and pandemics are spreading across borders today faster than ever before, and can have devastating impacts, if not controlled effectively.

But it is also a challenge with “an immense scope for solutions,” he added, pointing out that the world has the tools and resources to treat and control many of these diseases, as well as the know-how to build health systems that serve all.

Terrorism, combined with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, said Mr. Ban, “is perhaps the most serious threat to international peace and security.” He urged countries to further their cooperation to counter terrorism, including by being more innovative in developing their tools, strengthening partnerships with regional and civil society groups, and better leveraging their collective strengths.

Likewise, action was needed to address the “acute challenges” in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation, the Secretary-General stressed, noting that while there is widespread support for the view that nuclear weapons must never be used again, the threats still persist.

He noted that there are still gaps in the law, some key treaties remain to be negotiated, and new efforts are needed to create additional nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in the Middle East, and to bring existing zones fully into force.

“At a time when the world is focused on other more immediate crises, let us never forget that we must press our efforts to address the potential existential crisis which confronts humanity,” Mr. Ban stated. “It would not be responsible to do otherwise.”

The Secretary-General added that while all of these challenges may seem quite different at first glance, they share important traits that set them apart from other issues facing the world today.

“They endanger all countries – whether rich or poor, big or small – and all their people; they cross borders freely and are highly contagious; and they cannot be resolved without action by us all.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Global cooperation more vital than ever, Ban tells French-speaking world

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews