Secretary-General Offers Message to Young People: ‘We Need You to Help Transform Our World’, in Address at University of California, Los Angeles

3 March 2010

Secretary-General Offers Message to Young People: ‘We Need You to Help Transform Our World’, in Address at University of California, Los Angeles

3 March 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Offers Message to Young People: ‘We Need You to Help Transform


Our World’, in Address at University of California, Los Angeles


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, the Bernard Brodie Lecture on the Conditions for Peace, delivered at the University of California, Los Angeles, on 2 March:

Thank you, Chancellor [Gene D.] Block, for your kind introduction, and thank you all for this very warm welcome.

I am deeply honoured to receive the UCLA Medal.  I know that, through me, you honour the United Nations.

It is a special pleasure to be here at the Burkle Center, at this renowned university.

UCLA has produced so many great leaders, outstanding scholars, famous athletes.

For good reason, it has long been a magnet for international students.  In fact, my own son earned his MBA here. 

Perhaps you also know that California has a special place in my heart -- and to many Koreans living in Los Angeles.

I first came as an exchange student 50 years ago, to San Francisco.  That experience, for someone living in a devastated, war-torn country, really opened my eyes.  I started thinking about what I could do to contribute.

It was here that my dream of becoming a diplomat took shape.

And, of course, one of UCLA’s best-known alumni is also one of the United Nations Nobel Peace laureates, Ralph Bunche.

You have Bunche Hall at UCLA; we have Ralph Bunche Park in New York. 

The grandson of a slave, he was a brilliant scholar who rose to become our Organization’s highest-ranking American. 

He marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr.

And he strode the halls of the United Nations with equally high purpose.  He was one of the founders of United Nations peacekeeping.  He was a committed activist and humanitarian. 

And he often said that, for him, UCLA was where it all began.

To the young people here today, let me hope that you too will go forth, one day, inspired to help change the world.

My message today is really focused on the young people here.  You are the future.  You will be the owners of this world. 

We live in a time where a sneeze in one corner of the world can touch off a pandemic that infects people many thousands of miles away.

We are living in an interconnected global society.

The global financial crisis shows how recession spills across borders.

Climate change.  A global food crisis.  Global terrorism.  Weapons of mass destruction.

Never have the fates of the world’s people been so closely linked.

And never has the call to global action, to global solidarity, been so crystal clear.

The United Nations feeds at least 100 million people each day; we take care of 30 million refugees and displaced people; we vaccinate 40 per cent of the developing world’s children, saving 2 million people from dying from preventable diseases; we keep the peace with 115,000 peacekeepers in 17 operations on 4 continents; we defend human rights and protect the vulnerable in some of the toughest, remotest parts of the world.

The United Nations is present around the world.  No other organization or country has the global presence we do.

We are on the ground in Haiti, leading the earthquake recovery effort…

In Afghanistan, Sudan and Darfur… 

In Iraq and the Middle East…

In so many other places, trying to promote dialogue, development and peace.

I am here today to enlist you in our mission.

This great state has always been a champion of social conscience.  You are always on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.  When California leads, others often follow.

I am here to focus your great imagination and creativity on the global issues of our day.

Yesterday I had a very meaningful experience in talking to the creative community.  You might wonder why on earth a United Nations Secretary-General would do that.  I want to work with Hollywood, to use its technology and great reach to spread the word about peace, development, human rights and empowering women and girls.  These are serious issues.  I want to use their capabilities and reach.

Today I want to talk about three challenges in particular:  the climate threat; the fast-approaching deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and the need to empower the world’s women.

Let me start with climate change.  This has been a top priority.

I know I speak in a state that has long set the pace on environmental activism.

You continue to show the way on green technology, a clean-energy future and the regulations needed to make it possible.

Many of you have grown up recycling and pursuing green lifestyles not as a novelty, but as the natural, logical thing to do.

Some of you might even be involved in green start-up enterprises, or have ideas for one.  I hope so:  green growth will power the economy of the twenty-first century. 

Most of all, you know that climate change is real, and that it promises catastrophe if we don’t do more about it.

You must have heard about the controversy concerning the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  We know there were some errors, but this has been exaggerated. 

The bottom line is this:  nothing that has been reported changes the picture.  Emissions continue to rise.  The impacts are accelerating.  They are caused by human actions.  These are the facts.

Governments have agreed to keep the rise in global temperature to within 2° C, or 3.6° F.  Yet business as usual will result in a rise of twice that size or more.  This is alarming and devastating.  And every year’s delay costs billions and billions of dollars.

We need to cut emissions more rapidly.  We need to help vulnerable countries adapt.  We need to build on last December’s Copenhagen Accord.  And Governments need to continue their negotiations under the climate change convention to reach a comprehensive, legally binding treaty.

Nature has set its deadline.  Nature does not negotiate.  It is we human beings who have to adjust.  Nature doesn’t wait, and doesn’t negotiate.

Please play your part in this effort -- and make sure your country does, too.  United States leadership will be crucial in this campaign.

Every one of you has a role.  You may think you are just one individual, and wonder what power just one student has.  That is wrong.  You can talk to your professors.  You can write to Congress or your senators.  That is your role. 

Climate change is a risk in its own right.  But it also threatens the Millennium Development Goals.

In the year 2000, world leaders agreed to a major effort to reduce global poverty, hunger and disease, to improve education, empower women, and protect the global environment.  They set a deadline of 2015.

These are important goals.  The United Nations will hold a summit in September to strengthen political will for achieving them.  This is a moral imperative.

The United States must help lead this campaign.  Without help and support from the United States, many countries will continue to suffer.

One billion people go to bed hungry every night.  Every minute, a woman dies in child birth.  I have been speaking for 10 minutes, so that means 10 more women have died.  This is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable that people continue to die from preventable diseases.  People in the developed world must do more to help.

This is all the more disturbing because we are making progress toward the goals.  We are seeing fewer deaths from malaria, for example.  By 2015, we may be able to eliminate all deaths from malaria.

At the same time, on some goals we are standing still.

The agreed deadline of 2015 is approaching fast.  That is why we have to work together, and pool resources and wisdom.

There are many keys to the Millennium Development Goals.  Political leadership is crucial in making the Millennium Development Goals a priority.  Even at a time of financial crisis, we must put a strong emphasis on the Goals.

We should also focus on empowering women.  When we invest in women and girls, families are stronger, societies are more stable, economies thrive, countries move closer to peace.

Yet women continue to face discrimination everywhere around the world, as well as appalling violence -- domestic and in conflict areas.  Up to 70 per cent of women can expect to experience some form of violence in their lifetime.

Our goal must be clear:  No tolerance of the use of rape as a weapon of war.  No excuses for domestic violence.  No looking the other way when it comes to sex trafficking and other crimes.

I have established a network of men leaders -- including Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- who have pledged to use their influence to combat this violence.  We need to change the mentality and attitudes of men.  Men often think that women are inferior.  Yet in many societies, women do everything -- all of the child-rearing, 70 per cent of the farming.  I want to know what the men in these countries are doing!

The United Nations also has a new special envoy on sexual violence in conflict areas, who has just taken up her duties.

Within the United Nations itself, we will soon have a dynamic new office to help women and girls gain the freedom they need to reach their full potential.

Now let me offer an example that shows how we can change the dynamics in a country.

Almost two years ago, I visited Burkina Faso in West Africa, just south of the Sahara desert.

Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet it is a beautiful place.

Everywhere, you see classic scenes of rural African life.  Girls and women, for instance, in traditional African dress, grinding grain in a hollow log.

Most of Burkina’s people live in one or another of 8,000 rural villages, working in this manner because there is no electricity.

Over the past five years, we have introduced a revolutionary piece of technology to 200 of these villages.

It is called the Multi-Functional Platform.  You can always trust the United Nations to come up with a name like that.

Essentially, it’s a big, black, diesel-powered engine, with great iron fly-wheels straight out of the nineteenth century.

But make no mistake:  this simple machine is bringing twenty-first-century progress.

The reason:  it grinds the grain that women and girls would otherwise have to pound by hand.

Instead of spending hours and hours on back-breaking work, they now have time to go to school.  They have the luxury of going to a health clinic.  They can think about new ways of growing or making things.

There’s more.  While it’s running, this machine generates electricity, which in turn can charge batteries to power computers and cell phones.  Farmers use the cell phones to get weather forecasts.

Best of all, this machine is usually run by the women of the village.  Because they get income from it, they suddenly have new standing in the community.  They are empowered.

This platform for change costs less than $10,000 -- less than $10,000 to change the lives and future of an entire community in Africa.

With initiatives like these, we can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

We can empower women and meet the Millennium Development Goals.

With initiative like these, we can build more resilient societies better able to weather the impact of climate change.

There are many more stories like this waiting to be written.

By the United Nations.  By Governments.  By entrepreneurs and enlightened businesses.

By activists and, yes, by socially conscious entertainers such as those I met yesterday.

But most of all, it is you -- especially the young people among us.

You have to have a vision.  Of course, you have to study day and night, but I am not talking only about curriculum.  You need to look beyond your life here, and think about what you can do to help others.

We need you to help transform our world.

When I meet families made homeless by war, when I meet people who are hungry, I remember my own country after the war.

We Koreans lived in hunger, through a difficult period.

The United Nations, led by the United States and others, came to save Korea.  Afterward, we received massive economic assistance, mostly from the United States but also many other countries.  Thirty-five thousand United States soldiers were killed in the Korean War, in three years -- far more than have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  That is a great sacrifice for which Koreans are grateful.  This was also the first enforcement action by the United Nations. 

That is why, for me and so many millions of others, the United Nations remains a symbol of hope.

I want to do the same for others.  That’s what motivates me.  That is why I wake up every day wanting the United Nations to do better, to do more for peace and security, to empower women, and more.

So I ask you to join us.  Be a global citizen.  Help us mobilize the global citizenry.  Help us build the conditions for peace.

Thank you for welcoming me here today. 

Thank you for this great honour that you have bestowed upon me and the United Nations.

May happiness and good fortune accompany you on your way ahead.

Most important, I ask you to work with us for common prosperity, and for security and peace for all human beings.

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