Secretary-General Urges ‘Transformational Change’ to End Extreme Poverty, Tackle Climate Change, Banish Nuclear Weapons, Ensure Peace, Security, Human Rights

26 October 2009

Secretary-General Urges ‘Transformational Change’ to End Extreme Poverty, Tackle Climate Change, Banish Nuclear Weapons, Ensure Peace, Security, Human Rights

26 October 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Urges ‘Transformational Change’ to End Extreme Poverty, Tackle

Climate Change, Banish Nuclear Weapons, Ensure Peace, Security, Human Rights

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the World Affairs Council, in Seattle, today, 26 October:

Thank you for your welcome.  It’s wonderful to be with the World Affairs Council of Seattle.

When I think of the Pacific Northwest, I think creativity, openness and cutting-edge ideas.

Washington state leaders and thinkers have been out front, building a greener economy, promoting sustainable development, advancing technology and empowering people for change.

I hear it rains here on occasion.  But it’s clear that it has not dampened your enthusiasm!

My visit comes on the heels of United Nations Day on Friday.  I understand that the World Affairs Council of Seattle hosted an event over the weekend on the food crisis and climate change.

UN Day is a good moment to step back and reflect on the role of the United Nations in our changing and often dangerous times.

The challenge is great.  The need is urgent.

A financial crisis has shaken the foundations of the global economy.

A flu pandemic is stalking every member of the human family.

A food and fuel crisis continues to pick the pockets of the poorest and most vulnerable.

And, of course, climate change threatens our people and our planet.

Nations recognize the twenty-first century truth:  our challenges are complex and our future is one.

Simply put, we are all in this together.

As a result, people are turning to the United Nations.

We have more than 115,000 peacekeepers in 15 missions around the globe.  Just one of our missions -- in Darfur -- has more troops than all UN peacekeeping missions combined 10 years ago.

Every day, we feed over 100 million people.

We deliver more humanitarian aid than anyone and to the toughest places.

We vaccinate 40 per cent of the world’s children.

We assist more than 30 million refugees, mainly women and children, fleeing war and persecution.

In the last year alone, we have helped supported elections in almost 50 countries.

We have led a campaign that’s planted more than 7 billion trees around the world -– including, I might add, a Ginkgo Biloba I was honoured to plant yesterday at the Seattle Center.

And we push for human rights and education in every corner of the globe.

I am proud of what we are accomplishing.  But, frankly, there’s a long way to go.

There are many gaps in our world today -- between rich and poor, between hungry and fed, between those getting ahead and those left behind.

These gaps are real.  And yet, there is another that looms larger.  That is the gap between words and deeds, between saying and doing, between promises and progress.

I call it the “Doing Divide” -- there is a surplus of promises and a deficit of delivery.  For all of the gaps in our world today, it is this one that we must urgently bridge.

That is why I say it is time for renewed multilateralism -- a multilateralism that delivers for real people in real time.

Looking ahead, I see four key areas where we can make that difference -- four fundamental fronts where we can bridge the Doing Divide.

Challenge Number 1:  Confronting the existential threat of climate change

These are crucial days.  The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is now weeks away.

From the moment I took office, I have urged leaders to make climate change a priority.

I have travelled to the melting Arctic and the burning Amazon.  I have seen advancing deserts in Mongolia and drying lakebeds in Chad.

That’s only the beginning.  We will continue to see growing pressure on water, food and land.  It will reverse years of development gains … exacerbate poverty … destabilize fragile States and topple Governments.

Climate change is the leading geopolitical and economic issue of the twenty-first century.  It rewrites the global equation for development, peace and prosperity.

Some say tackling climate change is too expensive.  They are wrong.  We will pay an unacceptable price if we do not act now.

That is why I convened a Climate Change Summit at the United Nations last month.  It was history’s largest gathering of world leaders on climate change.

We need to sustain the momentum in the run-up to Copenhagen.  Important progress is being made.  But the last mile is often the hardest.

Help us send the message to leaders:  Enough talk.

We must reduce the emissions that are causing climate change.  We must help the most vulnerable adapt to changes that are already under way.  We must jump start a new era of global green growth.

Now is the time for action.

Challenge 2:  Freeing our world from the nuclear nightmare

Not long ago, few challenged the idea that nuclear weapons were here to stay.

That is why, one year ago, I laid out a five-point action plan to put disarmament back on the global agenda, including a special summit of the Security Council.

Last month, it happened.  The Security Council convened its first-ever Summit on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  It was a remarkable event --only the fifth time in United Nations history that Heads of State met around that familiar horseshoe table.

United States President Barack Obama presided.  He and the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, have set an ambitious course for reducing nuclear arsenals and delivery vehicles.

At the same time, there is a growing support from civil society and Governments.

Together, all of this is helping to put nuclear disarmament back on track.

Again, much has been said through the years.

The UN General Assembly’s very first resolution spoke of eliminating nuclear weapons.  That was nearly 65 years ago.

The cynics have had their day.  I am a realist.  We can never fully achieve peace and prosperity in a world threatened by the nightmare of nuclear war or nuclear terrorism.

The only way to avoid it is by making the very existence of such weapons a global taboo.

We have important markers in the coming months –- including the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in May.

Now is the time for action.

Challenge 3:  Ending extreme poverty

Almost a decade has passed since world leaders committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The deadline is just over five years away.  The clock is ticking.

We have made a great deal of progress -– on fighting malaria, polio and other diseases -- on getting more children into schools, especially girls.

I’m grateful for all of the resources, ideas and initiatives emerging right here in Seattle.

Yet, more than 1 billion people are still trapped in extreme poverty.  And the economic crisis has made it more difficult for more people.

Markets are bouncing back, but incomes, jobs and people are not.

That is why the United Nations developed a Global Jobs Pact.

We are creating a new Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System to reveal in real time what is really happening to the poorest and most vulnerable.

And next year, we will convene a UN Summit on meeting the MDGs -– a special push for a special need.

In past economic crises, aid has been cut at the very time it is most needed.

The global recession cannot be an excuse to abandon pledges.

Keeping our commitments is not charity.  It is a development imperative.  And it is a critical to a coordinated global recovery plan.

We can end poverty in our lifetimes.  Now is the time for action.

Challenge 4:  Engaging the world for peace, security and human rights

Too often, complacency and cynicism have prevented the international community from acting as early or as effectively as it should.

Earlier this year, I went to Myanmar.  Many leaders urged me to go.  Others said wait for an iron-clad commitment.

I went.  Why?  Because I believe you have to take the risks.  I believe you have to engage.

A few short months have passed.  We now find major players lining up behind a more robust process of engagement.  Dialogue is overriding denunciation and isolation from afar.  Political prisoners are being released.

Is it enough?  Of course, not.  But the channels are open to make the case for all that is left to be done.

I believe in determined diplomacy.  I believe in using every means at my disposal -- to engage, to persuade, to bring about real change for people.

That means one-on-one talks.  It means public speeches.  It means behind-the-scenes pressure.  It means on-site visits.

I don’t subscribe to “either/or diplomacy”.  I practice “all of the above diplomacy”.  I will use every tool I have to advance the UN Charter.  And I will not relent.

For all who see our world as a place of hope, for all who see our time as a period for action, these are extraordinary days.

This is the UN moment.

This is our time.

Now is our chance for transformational change on the big issues of our age:  to confront climate change … to banish nuclear weapons … to end extreme poverty … to engage the world for peace, security and human rights.

It is all within reach -– but it will take all hands.

No nation, no region, no group can do it alone.

We need Governments and business.  We need civil society and NGOs.

We need you.

Thank you for your support to the United Nations.

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