'We Can Catch Two Birds -- Climate Change and Economic Growth -- with One Stone'; Prosperity Will Come to Those Who Take Low-Carbon Path, Says Secretary-General

17 August 2009

'We Can Catch Two Birds -- Climate Change and Economic Growth -- with One Stone'; Prosperity Will Come to Those Who Take Low-Carbon Path, Says Secretary-General

17 August 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, to the University Presidents’ Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Asia and Africa, at Korea University in Seoul, on 17 August:

This is, of course, one of my country’s most distinguished universities, and so it is a special privilege and a pleasure to be with you here today.

[Republic of Korea] President Lee Myung-bak is an alumnus, as are many leaders at every stratum of Korean society.  And beyond our borders, the graduates of Korea University play a growing role on the global stage.

This is as it should be.  Asia’s scholars should be taking their rightful place under a larger sun.

And to the presidents of Africa’s great universities, I would say the same.

Your voices should be heard.  Your influence should be felt, far and wide.  You are a force for social, economic and political advancement -- a force for change -- at home and within our world community at large.

That is what I would like to speak to you about today, and why I am grateful to the University for hosting our conversation.

Let me begin by telling you a bit about how I see the world and its challenges.

Then I would like to invite your support and ask for your help in dealing with them, first as individuals, as opinion-makers and influencers, and second as Asians and Africans.

Because I see this as your moment.

We meet at a critical time -- a moment of profound challenge and change.

I often describe this as the age of multiple crises.  Food.  Fuel.  Flu.  Financial.

Each is something not seen in years, even generations.  But now they are hitting all at once.

These crises are compounded by others of greater human dimension and consequence.

I would like to highlight three of them:

First, the existential challenge of climate change, which threatens our way of life and the very future of our planet Earth.

Second, the deadly threat of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation.

Third, the plight of 2 billion of our fellow human beings, living in life-threatening poverty.

In each, you have a major stake. And in solving each of them, you have much to contribute.

We understand that no nation can deal with these problems alone.  We also understand that, if we fail to deal with them, humankind will pay a high price -- a high price in terms of the opportunity missed, and a high price in terms of social and economic costs.

That is why I have been speaking out, lately, about the need for delivering real results for real people.

Never has the imperative of acting together been so clear.  Our future will depend, quite literally, on how well we come together in common cause.  And in the end it will also depend on you and the noble institutions you represent.

The financial crisis has pushed many millions into poverty.  It cost 50 million jobs over the past year.  And the brunt of that impact has fallen on people least able to cope -- the bottom 2 billion of the world’s poor, many living on less than $2 a day.

Privileged societies -- moral societies -- have a special obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  We told this to the G-20 leaders in London in April.  We asked for $1 trillion to make sure that the most vulnerable were not left behind.

At the coming G-20 summit in Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania, United States], on September 24th, we need to deliver on that promise.

We are past the midpoint of the Millennium Development Goals.  Yet we are badly lagging in our assistance commitments -- so often promised, but less frequently delivered.

We need to drive hard, starting now, to achieve these goals by the target deadline of 2015.  This is why we will convene the formal Millennium Development Goal summit in September 2010 in New York.

We need to look beyond our borders, and our own immediate interests, and see the big picture. 

The big picture is that helping the poorest people of Africa, especially, is the right thing to do.

Pragmatically, it is also the correct thing to do.  As all of us are interconnected in our globalized world.

I believe the success of this effort ultimately hinges on each person's willingness to sacrifice for a greater good.  It takes all of us to save the vulnerable.

This brings us back to the main theme of our conversation, and this conference:  climate change.

No issue is more central to economic growth and development.  No issue is more vital to the well-being of billions of people, particularly in the poorest countries of the world.

We are at the pivotal moment.

In December, the leaders of our modern world come together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

There can be no solution to the challenge of climate change that is not global.  But if we can come together in partnership, we can transform today’s challenge into tomorrow’s opportunity -- an opportunity for green growth and sustainable prosperity.

We can take a big step along this road on September 22nd at the United Nations summit on climate change.

We need a major “top-down” push from world leaders -- a push on the negotiators to seal the deal that we need.

We expect more than 100 Heads of State and Government to join us, including President Lee.  I am grateful for his support and his engagement.

But, we also need a strong “bottom-up” push from academics and opinion-shapers such as you.  Universities such as yours are founts of ideas and innovation.  They are furnaces of innovation and entrepreneurship.

So, send forth this word.  Tell your university students, your colleagues, your political leaders -- we must seize this once-in-a-generation chance.

World leaders must go to Copenhagen in December and make it real.  They must seal a deal in the name of humankind.

Scientific and intellectual leadership is the key to creating the new green economy of the twenty-first century.

Now we need to put the best minds -— our best young minds, particularly —- to work in generating climate solutions.

Professors challenge their students to aim high -- to succeed for themselves while helping others.

Success is critical.

Copenhagen is our best chance, perhaps our last.

And to deliver, to seize this moment, world leaders must address the fundamentals at the root of the problem.

Specifically, we have to answer two questions.

First:  What is needed for us to do as science tells us?  That answer must include a long-term goal to limit global temperature increase.

Second:  In light of the science, how will we transform the world’s economy towards low-emissions growth, even as we adapt to the adverse effects of climate change?

These twin issues go straight to the heart of what it means to live in a world whose capacity to sustain life, as we know it, is under severe and growing strain.

A clear airing of views is essential.  Without a robust intellectual debate, our political leaders cannot give their negotiators the political guidance they need to advance in their talks.

The negotiations will, in turn, have to resolve four difficult political issues.

First, setting ambitious midterm targets for industrialized countries. 

Second, determining nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries.

Third, providing essential finance and technology support for adaptation.

And fourth, determining institutional arrangements and governance to manage this support.

From now until the Copenhagen Conference, we at the United Nations will do everything possible to mobilize action. 

I am personally committed, and I will pursue all possible channels to facilitate the negotiations.

But, at the end of the day, it is Heads of State and Government who must act.  They are responsible for showing leadership.  Only they can remove the political obstacles to success in Copenhagen.  But they can be influenced by you.

Time is short.  We have four months to seal the deal on a new climate framework.

To move ahead, we must respect the principle of equity and the demands of science as reaffirmed two years ago in Bali.

We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the science requires.  All countries must play a part, based on common but differentiated responsibilities.

Developing countries will need significant resources to strengthen their mitigation activities and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Support for developing countries must be predictable, simple to access and directed toward proven interventions.

Finally, we must make sure that funds are managed and deployed in an equitable way to give all countries an equal voice.

The transition to a low-carbon economy will be difficult, but it will also yield great benefits across the spectrum of human activity.  We can catch two birds -- climate change and economic growth -- with just one stone.

Because addressing climate change will not only promote a cleaner environment; it can also foster sustainable global growth.

More and more, leaders around the world understand and embrace this fact.  The Republic of Korea is one example.  Some 80 per cent of this country’s $38 billion national fiscal stimulus plan, under the leadership of President Lee, is dedicated to green measures.

When you invest in green technology or make your operations more energy efficient, you show that what is good for the environment is also good for the bottom line.

And here is the real bottom line:  economic prosperity in the twenty-first century will belong to those who are the first to take the low-carbon path.

This is the way of the future.  Those who act today will be more economically competitive tomorrow.  And the benefits will continue for decades to come.

Copenhagen offers the world a powerful opportunity to change course in a safer, more stable and more sustainable direction.

To boost prosperity and lift people out of poverty.

To provide a healthy planet to future generations.

Going forward, your leadership is essential and very much welcome.  Your work, by its very nature, is grounded in public service.  Who better than you can reach across borders to find common solutions to our common problems?

I ask only that you keep up this noble work.  I ask you, in this time of need, to help champion our cause. 

Let our young people, the world over, be inspired by your example and that of your universities.

Let us, together, work to build a greener, cleaner future.

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