Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Lunch Event on Climate Change and Development Hosted by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations and the United Nations Foundation
New York, 25 July 2007

What a pleasure to speak to you today on climate change and development. As you know, I am experiencing a change of climate myself: from Geneva to New York, and from the position of Member State representative to UN Secretariat official.

I am working hard at adaptation. But I figure it is safe to assume that at least one rule still applies: at lunch time, guest speakers should keep it short. I will do my best.

Let me begin by thanking the United Kingdom and the United Nations Foundation for organizing this event.

Indeed, I am greatly impressed by the role of the United Kingdom in broadening the debate on climate change — at home and abroad, including here, at United Nations Headquarters, under the skilled leadership of Ambassador Jones Parry. Thank you, Ambassador.

We are also grateful to the United Nations Foundation for raising awareness and building understanding of this critical issue. Our Department of Economic and Social Affairs asked the UN Foundation, and Sigma Xi, to provide input to the latest session of the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which concluded a two-year review and assessment of climate change. They delivered a quality report, which continues to have impact. Thank you, Senator Wirth.

With these and other efforts, including the IPCC reports and multifaceted work of the United Nations, climate change is now widely recognized as an urgent global problem. Gone are the days when climate change could be set aside as an environmental problem for the future. Today, we see clearly how broad its impact is — not only on the environment, but also on economic and social development. This is a problem of sustainable development that affects all countries, rich or poor. And overcoming it demands action by all of us — now.

The Secretary-General has taken a leadership role in helping to spur and shape the global response. And, while working on behalf of all Member States, he is doing so with particular concern for developing countries and for the least advantaged people. Why? Because climate change will hit them hardest — and they will have the least capacity to fight back.

Many developing countries now face formidable challenges related to climate change. We see, for instance, increased droughts and lower agricultural productivity, as well as storm surges and coastal flooding. The small island developing states face coastal erosion, saline intrusion in ground water, and, in some cases, the prospects of complete inundation.

Quite simply, the adverse impacts of climate change can and do interfere with achieving sustainable development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

I strongly agree with the Secretary-General that the most effective approach for combating the effects of climate change is a holistic one. We must consider its economic, social, and environmental aspects in an integrated and balanced manner.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change demands measures and actions in all relevant sectors — energy, agriculture, water, waste management, industry, transport, coastal zone management. Such an approach can be conducive to achieving a comprehensive, long-term response to climate change.

The world has no choice but to work also toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Improving energy efficiency provides an effective policy option for mitigation. And, crucially, it yields domestic environmental, economic, and social co-benefits: reduced local air pollution and improved health; cost savings for energy consumers; and avoiding or postponing construction of new and expensive electricity generation capacity.

Another important part of the overall approach is encouraging and promoting cleaner technologies. As the Secretary-General points out, these “can create jobs, boost industrial development, reduce air pollution, and help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions”.

While the obvious economic advantages of some cleaner technologies make their adoption attractive, expanding the development and use of others will require incentives and a supportive policy environment. Innovative ideas and measures to ensure the transfer of such technologies to developing countries are needed urgently. This can also help advance their processes of industrialization and efforts to reduce poverty.

All this points up my message to you today, which is two-fold. First, climate change is, fundamentally, a sustainable development challenge. Second, we have at hand a real opportunity for a solid “win-win” in more firmly linking climate change to the broader development agenda, including poverty reduction and other internationally agreed development goals.

The United Nations has a major role in assisting governments to increase capacities to design and implement national sustainable development strategies — through an open, transparent process, with the involvement of all stakeholders. 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.

At the same time, the UN has a major convening role, critical to mobilizing and providing a framework for global action — in complementary ways, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the CSD, the Economic and Social Council, and the General Assembly.

There is, of course, the thematic debate on climate change in the Assembly next week. Then in September is the Secretary-General’s High Level Event, which presents a unique opportunity for world leaders to send a strong signal to Bali on the critical importance of the post-2012 arrangements to our overall response to climate change.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UNFCCC Secretariat, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are together supporting the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys in this effort. I am delighted to see some of my colleagues in this room today. And I will gladly sit back in a moment to listen to the wise words of the UNDP Administrator, Mr. Derviş. But let me say, in closing, how much I am looking forward to working with all of you assembled here — UN Member States, UN organizations, and UN partners — on the road ahead.