COP21: ‘We have the unique opportunity to define our own destiny,’ Ban tells UN climate summit

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of High-Level Segment of COP21. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

7 December 2015 – Calling climate change a defining issue of our time, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today told top government officials that the opportunity exists “to define our own destiny” at the UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris.

“In rising to the climate challenge, we can set the world on a sustainable footing for generations to come, and lay the foundation for prosperity and security for all,” he said at a High-Level ministerial segment one week into COP21, which kicked off at the Paris-Le Bourget site last Monday in the north-east of the French capital.

Today, the second week of negotiations begins, with the aim of reaching a new universal climate agreement to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius.

“A week ago, 150 world leaders stood here and pledged their full support for a robust global climate agreement that is equal to the test we face,” Mr. Ban recalled. “Never before have so many Heads of State and Government gathered in one place at one time with one common purpose.”

The UN chief underlined that leaders have assured him they will work to remove any roadblocks.

“They have called for strong ambition and re-affirmed their support for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening resilience to changes to come,” he stressed, calling on leaders to translate “this historic call for action into a durable, dynamic, credible and fair climate agreement.”

Noting that outside the negotiating halls there is a “rising global tide for a strong, universal agreement,” he voiced what the people of the world expect from those working towards its achievement.

“First, we need an agreement that will limit temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. For many, including low-lying and least developed countries, even a 1.5 degree rise will have grave consequences,” he insisted.

“Second, the private sector needs a clear signal that the low-emissions transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial and already under way. Third, developed countries must agree to lead, and developing countries need to assume increasing responsibility in line with their capabilities. Fourth, the agreement must ensure sufficient, balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Finally, he said the agreement must provide a single framework for measuring, monitoring and reporting progress in a transparent manner.

“The decisions you make here will reverberate down through the ages,” he declared.

The Secretary-General also recounted a conversation he had with a young Norwegian explorer yesterday, named Erika. While visiting the Tara research vessel currently banked on the Seine, she told him: “We are the future. Your decisions today will be our future.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, also spoke of the groundswell of climate action being highlighted in a plethora of activities during the first week of COP21 under the Lima to Paris Action Agenda.

“Commitments have given way to real action on the part of investors, corporations, provincial and city governments, and from civil society as a whole,” she said.

Sharing his remarks at the High-Level ministerial segment, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly, said that whilst the year 2015 was all about reaching agreements, the year 2016 would be about their swift implementation. He announced he will be organizing an event in New York in April to help realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unanimously agreed this year by all UN Member States.

However, Mr. Lykketoft cautioned that a robust universal climate agreement in Paris is an essential foundation for the world to avoid crossing the threshold of a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise.

“Without your leadership, no amount of collaborative initiatives will suffice,” he warned.

Speaking at a press conference later in the day, Mr. Ban said that “from Lagos to Los Angeles, from Berlin to Beijing, people are asking for clean air and a peaceful, prosperous future for their children and succeeding generations, and also for a healthy planet.”

“We are on the verge of one of the most important peace agreements of our times – making peace with our planet,” he told reporters.

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