Secretary-General Calls on Young People to Join with United Nations in Helping Build More Prosperous, Greener, Safer World, in Address at Sofia University

5 May 2011
SG/SM/13545

Secretary-General Calls on Young People to Join with United Nations in Helping Build More Prosperous, Greener, Safer World, in Address at Sofia University

5 May 2011
Secretary-General
SG/SM/13545
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Calls on Young People to Join with United Nations in Helping

 

Build More Prosperous, Greener, Safer World, in Address at Sofia University

 

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, at Sofia University, in Sofia, Bulgaria, 5 May:

Dober Vecher.  Nogo sey radvam, che soom F’krasiva Sofia.  [Good evening. I am happy to be in beautiful Sofia.]

Thank you for this warm welcome.  And special thanks to Sofia University and the United Nations Association for organizing this evening’s event.

I am pleased to be at such a renowned university, especially since all of the United Nations work on education, science and culture around the world is led by a distinguished Bulgarian, the Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Dr. Irina Bokova. 

Let me also note that this is a visit of “firsts” — the first visit of a United Nations Secretary-General since your country’s democratic transition, and my own first visit to Bulgaria. 

By fate or good fortune, it coincides with the Day of Saint George.

Pohz-dravi za Guer-yov Den! [My best wishes for Saint George’s Day!]

Tomorrow, I will visit the old city of Plovdiv.  And today I had the pleasure of seeing Saint Nedelya Church.

It was not only beautiful but powerfully symbolic, standing near the Sofia Synagogue and the Banya Bashi Mosque, sacred houses of three faiths in your famous “triangle of tolerance”.

It reminded me of a fact about Bulgaria’s history that has always impressed me deeply.

Uniquely in Central Europe, the Jews of this country were largely saved from the Holocaust.

Government officials found ways not to carry out orders.  Ordinary people stood in front of trains bound for the Nazi death camps and freed their inmates.  “No!” they said.  “Not here!”

Bulgaria has long been a cultural crossroads.  You have a history of tolerance.

It is not unblemished, we know.  Twenty years ago, many thousands of Turks left the country.

Even today, Bulgaria struggles in its efforts to achieve full integration and rights for the Roma and other minorities.

Yet clearly, events have only strengthened your natural instinct for tolerance and mutual respect.

Bulgaria plays an active role in the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.  President [Georgi] Parvanov himself led the Bulgarian delegation to the Alliance’s forum in Istanbul two years ago.

Your national hero, Vasil Levski, fought to free Bulgaria from the Ottomans.

Yet he fought for more than liberation.  He fought for his vision of a nation — brotherhood for all, regardless of religious beliefs and nationalities.”

That, my friends, is the great human project. 

It is the cornerstone of the United Nations.

It is a fundamental principle of our work together, in the name of our common humanity.

I was invited to speak tonight about the world in the next twenty years.

That might seem distant, an entire generation, as distant for the young people here tonight as 1989.

Yet let me say:  in my experience, the “future” has a way of arriving sooner than we might expect.

Everywhere we look, it seems, our world is undergoing dramatic shifts and transformations. 

New economic powers have emerged.  Global interdependence is accelerating.

New challenges have come to the fore — climate change, pandemic disease, food and energy shortages.

Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall transformed Eastern Europe, so is revolution now sweeping the Arab world.

These are generational challenges.  Risk and opportunity walk side-by-side.

We need to ask big questions.  How do we want our world to look when the baby born today is a student at this university?

We need to think big.  It is said that the ship of state, like an ocean liner, needs many miles to turn around.  But turn we must, if icebergs lie in our path.

This October, the earth’s population will hit 7 billion.  By 2050, it will be more than 9 billion. 

Almost all of that growth will come in the already-crowded and overburdened cities and slums of the developing world.

We also know that the earth is warming.  Since becoming Secretary-General, four years ago, I have travelled to the Arctic and to the Antarctic.  According to a report released just this week, Arctic ice is vanishing far more quickly than predicted.

I have seen melting glaciers in the Andes, flown over the once-vast Lake Chad, shrunk to a tenth of its size 30 years ago. 

I have visited countries like Myanmar and Pakistan, devastated by floods and hurricanes that will only increase in number and severity as our climate grows warmer.

For most of the last century, the world has mined its way to growth and burned its way to prosperity.  Today, we see energy, food and commodity prices rising.

Meanwhile, social inequalities between the rich and poor grow ever wider.  And for the world’s poor, it often seems as if they are being left to fall further and further behind.

As we think about how we wish our world to be, twenty years from now, tell me — is this just?  More practically, is it sustainable?

We need to find a more balanced path of harmony and growth.  If we do, our future can be bright with possibility for all.

If we do not, our future will be darkened by chaos and conflict.

Yes, technology offers solutions.

As for me, I prefer to put my faith in people — young people in particular.

Twenty years from now, my generation will largely have left the scene.

You, here today, will stand in our place.

And for that reason, I want you to know something:  how the world looks in 2031 will depend largely on the decisions we make in 2011.

That is why the United Nations needs your engagement, now, on three over-arching challenges, three challenges that will shape the world you leave to your children.

First, a more prosperous world, free of extreme poverty.

Second, a cleaner, greener and more sustainable world.

And third, a safer world, free of nuclear threat.

Realizing these goals will not be easy.  It means investing when the dividends may not be immediate.  The real pay-off may come far down the line.  But it will only come if the bold steps are taken now.

First, extreme poverty.

We are the first generation with the means and the know-how to wipe out poverty in our time. 

Ten years ago, world leaders laid the road map:  Cut extreme poverty in half.  Boost primary education.  Empower women and girls.  Strengthen health for mothers and children.  Fight killer diseases like AIDS and malaria.  And protect the environment. 

We call them the Millennium Development Goals and we are seeing progress around the world.

From here, I go to Istanbul where we will gather for a conference on the unique needs of the Least Developed Countries. 

The moral argument is clear — these are the poorest countries on earth.  But did you know some of these economies are also among the fastest growing?

Like never before, fighting poverty and promoting growth in developing countries can create jobs and promote growth back home. 

That’s how we build a new generation of prosperity.

Second, a more sustainable world.

For too long, we believed in consumption without consequences.

Those days are gone. 

Our test is to green our economies, to reduce emissions and seek clean-energy growth. 

How?  By connecting the dots among climate, water, energy, food security and other key challenges of the 21st century, by finding solutions to one problem that are solutions to all.

Next year’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development will be one of the most important meetings in the history of the United Nations.

Our common goal:  to chart a road map toward a sustainable future.

Third, a safer world.

Once again, a generational opportunity lies before us.  More and more Governments and people are realizing that nuclear weapons bring only the illusion of security. 

As long as nuclear weapons exist, we live at risk:  nuclear proliferation; nuclear terrorism; a catastrophic accident; or war.  The only way to eliminate those risks is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Those risks go beyond weapons.  Last month, I visited Chernobyl to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the nuclear disaster and launched a five-point strategy for nuclear safety.

I called for a top-to-bottom review of nuclear safety standards, advocated a larger role for the International Atomic Energy Agency, emphasized the nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety, called for a new cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy, and stressed the connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security.

The tragedy at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan has given new urgency to this issue.  The recent incident at your own Kozloduy nuclear plant should also be a wake-up call.

As the number of nuclear facilities increases over the coming decades, our vulnerability will grow.

Now is the time for a real global debate on the future of nuclear energy.  That is why I will convene a high-level meeting on strengthening the international nuclear safety regime when world leaders gather in New York in September. 

Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, thousands of young people gathered in the square outside this great hall to demand change.  That was the beginning of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy.

You have come far.  You have rejoined Europe and reclaimed your cultural heritage.

Today, similar change is sweeping the Arab world.  Once again, people are demanding their freedom.

Visiting Tunisia and Egypt recently, I saw the euphoria, the same sense of fresh possibility that Bulgaria experienced two decades ago.

These revolutions represent one of the greatest opportunities to advance human rights and democracy in a generation.

Properly handled, they can become a model for similar transformations across North Africa and the Middle East.

But success cannot be assumed.  It requires the strong backing of the entire international community.

That is why, tomorrow, I will participate in the Sofia Platform — a gathering of leading thinkers and government officials from Central Europe and North Africa.  Together, they will compare experiences from 1989 and apply the lessons learned to the here and now, 2011.

Bulgaria has much to offer these emerging democracies.  You know how hard it is to build democracy, transform economies, dismantle a police state and create the rule of law.

You know how high expectations can be — and how setbacks can cause people to doubt.

I hope you will join the United Nations and others in helping this new generation of revolutionaries to realize their dreams.

Let me close with a few words to the students among us.

We have been talking about history, the future, great events that change the world.

All that must feel very distant from your daily lives — your studies, your friends, the pleasure you take in this fair city.

This is as it should be.  But remember:  history is made by individuals.  It is a story written by ordinary people, often in small and ordinary actions:

The students who made an individual choice, twenty years ago, to stand in the square outside and demand change.  The Tunisian fruit-seller who lit the Arab world on fire.  The people in Tahrir Square in Cairo, who stood their ground and demanded justice.

The state of the world in twenty years depends on you.

You must be ready.

So, I urge you to develop your capacity to think big.

In my country of Korea, we have a saying.  Keep your head above the clouds but stand with your feet on the ground.

Try to have a bigger vision, a broader vision, beyond the boundaries of Bulgaria.

Be a proud citizen of Bulgaria, but be a proud global citizen as well. 

The world is big — there are so many things for us to do. 

Use your energy, your initiative, your knowledge for the global public good.

That is the reality of our new world.  More and more, we are becoming one — sharing problems, but also sharing opportunities and dreams.

That is what I see, everywhere I go, as Secretary-General.

Once again, I return to the words of your national hero, Vasil Levski:  “the Brotherhood of all.”

That is our challenge.  That is our future.

Blagodaria.  Thank you.

And nogo oos-pay-hee za Bulgaria.  [Wishing you all success.]

Good night.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.