8 February 2008


8 February 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks to the Economic Club of Chicago dinner, in Chicago, on 7 February:

Thank you very much for your warm welcome.  It’s a great honour and pleasure for me to be here and to speak with you this evening.

One of my jobs as Secretary-General of the United Nations is to establish strong partnerships with the United Nations strongest supporters, that is the United States.

I can think of no place better to say this than in Chicago, the cosmopolitan centre of the American heartland.

This trip is a part of my ongoing efforts as Secretary-General of the United Nations to reach out to the major American cities and American citizens to talk about the agenda and goals of the United Nations.  The United Nations and the United States share the same goals and objectives:  peace and security; development; and human rights.  In that regard, I feel very much privileged to visit Chicago as my second such reaching out to American cities.  I understand that this is the first visit by any Secretary-General of the United Nations, and in that regard, I feel very much honoured.  In fact, my plane was cancelled last night.  I was so disappointed.  The first visit by any Secretary-General to Chicago might have been cancelled altogether.  What worried me most was that one of my senior advisers came to me and said, “Look, Mr. Secretary-General, we have a big problem.  You better give up.  Once it snows in Chicago, it may continue until springtime.”  I’m very happy to be with you.

When I was a young boy growing up in South Korea, I dreamed of coming to America.  I think that might have been the dream of every Korean at that time because Korea was just over the Korean War.  I met many American soldiers, and they saved my country from Communist aggression, acting on the ideals and morals and objectives of the United Nations Charter.  There was no end to their kindness and generosity.  For their support, I am still very much grateful for that sacrifice and contribution by many great American people.

I came to America, first, as a teenage exchange student, in 1962, for the first time, when I lived with a lovely American family outside San Francisco.  At that time, I travelled to four cities in one month.  It was a great experience for me, as well as a great shock as a young boy, but I’ve always had a special feeling for Chicago. Even as a young man, it always occupied an outsized space in my imagination, famous for its skyscrapers and its big can-do spirit.

Chicago is a global city.  It invented futures trading.  It is the home to Boeing and Abbott Labs and MacDonald’s.  This afternoon, I met some members of Rotary International, which has led a $600 million worldwide campaign to eradicate polio.  Sometime this year, their work will be done.  Polio will be history, like smallpox before it.

Think of that.  A global mission to eliminate a dread disease, spearheaded from Chicago.  I think that deserves applause.

Now you have set your dreams for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  I wish you well.  Having finally seen your beautiful city, with its parks and boulevards, I can think of no better setting for the Olympic marathon than your own Magnificent Mile.  Just imagine people running the marathon on this Magnificent Mile.

Let me be a little bit more serious now.  Let me thank the Economic Club of Chicago and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for hosting this dinner, and let me thank all of you for coming.

Marshall Bouton stands ready to moderate our conversation.  So I’ll try to be very brief.

First, our world is changing.

The United Nations was founded, 63 years ago, to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, as our Charter famously puts it.  Today, however, the big issues are very different.

We all know how global terrorism threatens Governments and destroys societies.  We know how infectious diseases can go global, and how an out-of-control pandemic could kill millions of people.  We know how global warming threatens the planet.

No nation alone, no matter how resourceful or how powerful it may be, can deal with such problems.  That’s my second priority.

Operating effectively in today’s world requires partnership.  It requires cooperation, engagement and dialogue -- as well as global rules.  That’s where the United Nations comes in.

The United Nations, today, is the world’s only truly global institution.

Americans sense this.  Polls show that 74 per cent believe the United Nations should play a larger role in the world.  A similar percentage of people believe that United States foreign policy should be conducted in partnership with the United Nations.

When a disaster strikes, like the tsunami in South-East Asia three years ago, Americans saw that it was the United Nations that coordinated the efforts of thousands of relief workers and channelled the millions of dollars that individual Americans so generously donated to help.  Within days, the World Food Programme was feeding 300,000 people.  The World Health Organization supplied fresh water and immunizations, preventing fatal outbreaks of disease.  UNICEF provided milk to children and got kids back to school.

Americans also know that the United Nations is the only hope for Darfur -- a conflict where America has called for action, loudly.  We are now in the early stages of deploying 26,000 peacekeepers there, joining 100,000 United Nations forces on duty elsewhere around the world.

Darfur and crises like it take place far away.  They unfold largely on our TV screens.  So let me conclude these remarks on a topic closer to home -- one that affects us all.  That’s climate change, the defining challenge of our era.

Chicago has been a pioneer, thanks in large measure to Mayor Daley’s determination to make your city one of the greenest in America.  You have become leaders in environmental design, conservation and alternative energy.  You have planted half a million trees.  You have raised public awareness about global warming and galvanized political will for change.

What you are doing locally in Chicago, the United Nations has been doing globally.  For much of the past year, I have gone around the world beating the drum on climate change.  I have travelled to Antarctica and the Andes to see melting glaciers.  In Brazil, I saw how much of the Amazon rain forest is turning to savannah.  In Chad, I have seen the devastating effect of climate change, which has shrunk the size of Lake Chad to one tenth of its original size in only 30 years.

The United Nations has done much to highlight the crisis.  Its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international consortium of more than 2,000 scientists, shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  They proved beyond doubt that global warming is real, and that humankind is the cause.  We have organized meetings of leaders around the world, most recently at the December climate change summit in Bali.

The point I want to make is that we, here in this room, are part of the solution.  As business people, you will appreciate the power of markets and innovation to change the world.  In this, the United Nations is your partner.

As I see it, any solution to climate change should be about shaping the world’s economic future.  We have experienced several great economic transformations in our history:  the industrial revolution: the technology revolution; our modern era of globalization.  Now we are on the threshold of another revolution -- the age of green economics.

Visiting Silicon Valley last summer, I saw how venture capital is pouring into new renewable energy and fuel efficiency technologies.  The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that global investment in zero-greenhouse energy will reach $1.9 trillion by 2020 -- seed money for a wholesale reconfiguration of global industry.

With the right financial incentives and a global framework, we can steer economic growth in a low-carbon direction.  This is the bottom line.  Done right, our war against climate change is an economic opportunity, not a cost.

People say that these actions should have been taken yesterday, but it may not be too late if we take action today.  The cost of inaction will be far, far greater than the cost of action today.

The most forward-looking chief executive officers know this.  That’s one reason why business people in so many parts of the world are demanding clear and consistent policies on climate change -- global policies for a global problem.

Business needs ground rules, a framework in which to operate and invest.  Helping to create this is very much the work of the United Nations.

In this, as in so much else, we here are natural partners.

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