General Assembly Thematic Debate on 'Climate Change as a Global Challenge'

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the General Assembly Thematic Debate on “Climate Change as a Global Challenge” New York, 1 August 2007

Excellencies,

Almost two decades ago, in this very Hall, the world took vital first steps in responding to climate change. Here, in the House open to all States, the General Assembly recognized climate change as a “common concern of mankind”.

So it is natural that the Assembly has today convened this important debate on climate change as a global challenge. I would like to thank the President of the General Assembly for inviting me to address it.

Over the past year, climate change has made newspaper headlines and has been the subject of a prize-winning documentary. Indeed, it is an urgent challenge with crushing implications for all of us unless we make common cause — and mount a global response.

Climate change is, fundamentally, a sustainable development challenge, involving not only environmental protection, but also economic and social development.

This means we can firmly reject a “gloom-and-doom” approach. For today, more than ever, we have at hand many of the tools we need to tackle such challenges in an integrated and balanced manner.

There is no magic formula for stimulating economic growth, eradicating poverty and other social ills, and ensuring environmental protection. But we have achieved considerable policy consensus on what to do and what works — plus commitments to specific actions.

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development recently concluded a two-year review and assessment of climate change. This review pointed the way to action on overcoming many of the barriers and constraints we face with respect to mitigation and adaptation. These include action to facilitate the transfer of clean technologies, access to financing, and capacity building for developing countries.

The United Nations has a role to play in undertaking concrete action in cooperation with all stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector. Indeed, many of the Partnerships for Sustainable Development, set up after the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg, are bringing stakeholders together to work on specific aspects of the climate change challenge.

The UN also has a major role in assisting governments to increase capacities to design and implement national sustainable development strategies — through an open, transparent and participatory process. In this way, measures and policies to mitigate emissions and to adapt to climate change can be undertaken as part of overall efforts to achieve development goals, certainly including the MDGs.

The impacts of climate change threaten the fragile economic and social gains of developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. Economic growth is critical to reducing vulnerability — more resources means greater access to cleaner technology, and improved capabilities for addressing adaptation and protection from extreme weather events. Addressing current vulnerabilities is a good way of enhancing resilience against future impacts. And we can do this in a development context.

We expect to hear much on this from Member States today, as you discuss national strategies and international commitments.

The statements of the distinguished envoys confirm that technology and finance are also priorities for Member States when it comes to confronting climate change. The development and deployment of new technologies needs to be accelerated on a vast scale. Collaboration and cooperation among countries will be crucial, including South-South cooperation. The related challenge of financing new, cleaner technologies still looms large.

The Secretary-General has determined that all relevant parts of the UN system should contribute to this global effort and support action by Member States, especially the most vulnerable. We in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) fully support the Secretary-General in this, and in his broader effort to help spur and shape a comprehensive global response.

The road ahead will not be easy. We need to act immediately and to act for the long term. We need to focus on the individual elements and to take an integrated, balanced, holistic approach.

My message to you today is that all of us — the UN family, its Member States, and all stakeholders — have a genuine opportunity for a “win-win” solution in more closely integrating climate change into the broader development agenda, today and in the years to come. Let us together make the most of this opportunity.

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