'The Climate Is Changing and So, Therefore, Must We,' Says Secretary-General in Mongolia, Where, as Elsewhere, Human Family Depends on Health of Global Home

27 July 2009

'The Climate Is Changing and So, Therefore, Must We,' Says Secretary-General in Mongolia, Where, as Elsewhere, Human Family Depends on Health of Global Home

27 July 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech to a gathering of senior Government officials and academics at Government House, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on 27 July:

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today.

Over the past two days, Mrs. Ban and I, and all my colleagues, have had a wonderful visit to this beautiful country.

It was indeed a special privilege to visit the Hustai National Park, to spend a night in a traditional ger, and to get a taste of the rich culture of Mongolia.

As you may know, I was honoured to name a horse ‑‑ one of the original Takhi.  I named it “Peace”, ENKHTAIVAN in Mongolian, for reasons all of us understand.

Very early in my term, I settled on a list of urgent priorities.  At the top of that list is climate change.  This is a fundamental challenge which confronts our planet and all of humanity.

When it comes to climate change, we often focus on the question of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  This is understandable and necessary.  But it is not the whole story.

Today, I want to talk about how we can and must adapt to the effects of climate change.

We must get serious about adaptation and we must do so now.  There is no time for delay.  The people who are bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change are those who can least afford to do so and who have done least to cause the problem.

Adaptation is both a practical need and a moral imperative.

I am here in Mongolia to talk about the imperative of adaptation, not only because you face many challenges in this regard, but also because you are doing something about it.

Mongolia is already experiencing the unrelenting effects of climate change.

As a landlocked country, you have long faced particular development challenges.  These are today compounded by the effects of increasingly extreme weather.

Expanding deserts suffocate livelihoods and a way of life.  The degradation of vital pasture lands directly affects Mongolia’s economy and culture.  And you are not alone.  You are part of the one third of the world’s population – 2 billion people ‑‑ who are potential victims of desertification.

The Government has proposed new policies for better managing grasslands and pastures.  Improved weather forecasting and insurance funds for herders can help protect livelihoods.

This is vital work.  It is key to helping the people of Mongolia adapt to a changing climate.

The United Nations, the World Bank and donor countries are working with Mongolia to assist in these efforts.

Here, as elsewhere around the globe, I have seen the human face of climate change.  Already, hundreds of millions of people are facing increased hardships.

Three quarters of all disasters globally are now climate related, up from half just a decade ago.

In my travels in Africa, I have met families whose crops have been scorched by droughts.  In Haiti and Latin America, I have visited those whose homes have been destroyed by floods and storms, and I have been deeply moved by their suffering.

In a matter of years, climate change could usher in widespread chronic hunger and malnutrition across broad swathes of the developing world.

Already, over 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night.

Imagine what will happen when rains become more erratic and droughts intensify.

Imagine, for a moment, that the glaciers of the Himalaya melt.  The lives and livelihoods of a billion people will change across Asia.

But we don’t need to imagine.

Reality is grim enough.  Scientists say that by 2020, 75 to 250 million people in Africa will face growing shortages of water due to climate change.  Yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by half in some African countries over the next 10 years.

These are frightening scenarios.

Even the world’s richest nations are not immune.

In the United States, the Energy Secretary has warned that California ‑‑ the world’s fifth largest economy ‑‑ could see prime farmland reduced to a dustbowl, and major cities running out of water by the end of the century.

Past and present emissions are already changing the climate.  And the emissions are still increasing.  The adverse impacts will increase.

The point is clear:  the climate is changing and so, therefore, must we.

There is only one way forward.  Together, we must transform our economies and embark on a lower emission, clean energy pathway.  We must strengthen our ability to adapt to a changing climate.

Adaptation is an essential investment in our common future.

We must invest in making our communities more resilient and in reducing our vulnerability to natural disasters.   And we must invest in the eco-systems that sustain us.

Across the globe, we see that humankind is neglecting or destroying our environment at an accelerating rate.

They include the fisheries and fields that feed people and drive economies.  They include the wetlands that protect us from floods, and the forests that provide fresh air, clean water and livelihoods for 1.6 billion people.

We must walk a different path.

In September, I will convene a summit of all nations in New York to mobilize global action.  I will press for an effective, fair and comprehensive agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this December in Copenhagen.

We must seal a deal.  That deal must provide a clear formula and ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science requires.  No less important, that deal must also assist vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change.

Copenhagen presents us with an historic opportunity.  We have a chance to preserve our planet and build a safer, cleaner, more prosperous and sustainable future for all.

Scientists warn these climate impacts will increase in the decades to come.

The good news is we are far from helpless in preparing for these consequences.

That is why it is absolutely crucial that the world agrees on a comprehensive framework for adaptation at Copenhagen.

In our work, we must be guided by the principles of equity and transparency, and involve all in the decisions that affect us all.

Pledges must be paid, and words translated into deeds.  Lives are on the line.

Fidelity to these principles ‑‑ and concrete action ‑‑ is needed to build trust between developing and industrialized countries.

Trust is the essential cornerstone of a Copenhagen agreement.

Adapting to climate change requires practical action on several fronts.

First, we need more detailed scientific data on climate impacts, particularly at the regional and national levels.  This will enable us to target scarce resources where they can do the most good.  The upcoming World Climate Conference in Geneva in August will focus needed attention on this issue.

Second, developing countries need resources to adapt to the deadly increase in floods, droughts, and storms.  Billions in public financing will be required.  There must be new money, not just re-packaged official development assistance.

The most vulnerable countries need immediate support.  Lives are on the line.  I urge developed countries to contribute to transitional funding arrangements and to other mechanisms for providing urgent support.  Funding needs to be governed in ways that address the needs of developing countries, while ensuring efficiency and accountability.

Admittedly, these costs are not insignificant.

Let us remember, however, that the sums we invest today will pale in comparison with the costs of inaction.

Huge sums are being spent to blunt the financial crisis.

If we can bail out banks, certainly we can find the funds to protect millions if not billions of people and their means of survival.

Third, we need to “green” our development efforts so that climate resilience, sustainability and low-carbon growth become the foundations of future prosperity.  We need to make resources go further and last longer in a world with greater climate volatility.  This was the recommendation of a group of prominent experts commissioned by the Swedish Government earlier this year.

Fourth, we should reduce disaster risks wherever possible.  Disaster risk reduction is our first line of defence against the impacts of climate change.  In Bangladesh, Cuba, Viet Nam and elsewhere, it has proven to be among the most cost-effective investments the world can make.

Prevention is always cheaper than cure.

Many of the most effective risk reduction tools are about mobilizing people, not expensive technology.  For example, planting mangrove trees on unprotected coastlines.  Community education and evacuation plans.  Thousands of lives have been saved in just these ways.

We will all need to adapt.  Ultimately we will all benefit from adaptation.

Climate change carries no passport.  And no country is immune.  In our interconnected world, a disaster that is local in origin can quickly become regional or even global in impact.

Disaster.  Disease.  Displacement.  Destitution.

Adaptation is an essential investment in our common future.

At the September climate change summit in New York, I will call on world leaders to recognize this fact.

As we have seen here in Mongolia, the human family directly depends on the health of our global home.

When we live in harmony with nature we all benefit.

Only by working together can we hope to seal the deal for a safer, healthier, more prosperous future for ourselves and for generations to come.

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