Secretary-General Says Everything Is Changing, Everything Is New; ‘We Must Find Our Own Way, a Very Different Way, with New Risks, Unprecedented Opportunities’

22 November 2010

Secretary-General Says Everything Is Changing, Everything Is New; ‘We Must Find Our Own Way, a Very Different Way, with New Risks, Unprecedented Opportunities’

22 November 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Says Everything Is Changing, Everything Is New; ‘We Must Find


Our Own Way, a Very Different Way, with New Risks, Unprecedented Opportunities’


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey, today, 22 November:

Let me begin with a simple thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity to be here with so many good friends of the United Nations.  The honour you do me is an honour for the Organization I am privileged to lead.  Together, we honour its noble ideals:  its achievements and its staff, its work for peace and progress in every corner of the globe.  I also see this honorary degree as a testament.  A testament to the close ties between the United Nations and Seton Hall University — and with the Whitehead School in particular.

Your students come from faraway places.  Your graduates go out into the world, in its broadest sense.  They fill our negotiating rooms at our Headquarters in New York.  They staff our field operations and bring uncommon intellect and professionalism to their work.  We are natural partners, Seton Hall and the United Nations. You, with your commitment to global education, and we, the United Nations — the pre-eminent global institution for our global era.

The United Nations today leads what seems at times like a double life.  On the one hand, pundits criticize the United Nations for not solving all the world’s ills.  On the other hand, United Nations Member States and people around the world are asking the Organization to do more, in more places, than ever before.

We have only to read the newspapers, turn on the television, to appreciate the sheer scale of the need.  Conflicts rage in too many places, and the United Nations goes where others dare not.  Natural disasters are striking with greater fury, and in greater numbers, than ever before.  Our humanitarian assistance, in other words, is a growth industry.  Political repression and a rising tide of intolerance throw an ever-brighter spotlight on human rights. 

And on top of all this, we face a whole new generation of threats, threats unlike any that have come before.  They spill across borders.  They have global reach.  No single country or group, however powerful, can deal with them alone. 

I have seen, in my own life, in my own country, what the United Nations can do.  The United Nations helped my country to rebuild from a devastating war, a war that destroyed my own village and sent us fleeing into the hills.  Today, the United Nations continues to be the voice of the voiceless, the defenders of the defenseless.  We help the helpless, to help themselves, just as the United Nations did for [Republic of] Korea many decades ago.

You are familiar with many of the challenges before us.  Today, I will focus on what I see as the Big Three:  climate change — a greener, more sustainable world for all; the fight against poverty — a more prosperous world for all; and human beings in crisis, the emergencies that claim the headlines — a safer world for all.  And today I ask, publicly, what I ask myself every day:  “Can the United Nations deliver what the world needs?”

Let me begin with climate change — the defining challenge of our times.  Climate change is not science fiction; it is science fact.  We see its effects every day, all around us.  Four years ago, when we came to office, only a handful of global leaders knew enough to even talk about the issue.  Today, we have pushed climate change to the top of the global agenda.

But make no mistake:  it has been a hard road.  Last December in Copenhagen, world leaders gathered in a small room — [United States] President [Barack] Obama, President [Nicolas] Sarkozy of France, President [Jacob] Zuma of South Africa, President [Felipe] Calderon of Mexico, and many others.  They talked far into the night, and they emerged, if you believe the news reports, with, virtually nothing.

It is true that Copenhagen did not meet the very high expectations.  We hoped for a comprehensive, legally binding treaty that would usher in an era of sustainable, low-carbon prosperity.  Nonetheless, despite the conventional wisdom that Copenhagen was somehow a “failure”, much in fact was achieved.

For the first time ever, developed and developing countries acknowledged their responsibility to curb emissions of greenhouse gasses.  For the first time ever, all countries agreed on the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2° C.  For the first time ever, countries made large pledges to finance mitigation and adaptation efforts:  $30 billion over the next three years for fast-start financing; and the goal of providing $100 billion per year by 2020.  For people on the front-lines of climate change, these were important steps.

The bottom line:  we made progress.  There is a lesson here.  Let us not dream of big overnight breakthroughs.  Let us not think, in the absence of immediate progress, that we are failing.  Let us not misunderstand what it takes to bring about change in the world today.

I emphasize this because it is fundamental.  Gone are the days when one country or bloc could take big steps, almost by fiat.  Truly global action on global problems requires patience and determination.  It means bringing the world along, step by gradual step.  It means mobilizing support, creating broad alliances, building coalitions and taking into account a web of moving parts and complex issues.  Collective action has never been easy — but today, it has never been more necessary.

In two weeks. I will be heading to Mexico to try to spur further progress in the climate negotiations.  We do not expect a comprehensive agreement.  But many issues are ripe for agreement, from deforestation and adaptation to technology, capacity-building and the future of the Kyoto protocol.  The more we delay, the more we all will pay.

Let me turn to the poverty agenda.  The Millennium Development Goals are the world’s blueprint for ending extreme poverty.  The Goals call on all of us to work to reduce poverty and hunger, to improve the health of mothers and children, to combat HIV/AIDS, increase access to education and protect the environment, and to forge a global partnership for development.  The conventional wisdom will tell you that these goals are simply unattainable.  While we can never move fast enough for the world’s “bottom billion” — the 1 billion people who survive on a dollar a day — the real truth is that remarkable progress is being made.

We are controlling disease better than ever before, polio, malaria, AIDS.  We are making big new investments in women’s and children's health, which is key to progress in many other spheres.  We have learned an important lesson:  with the right policies, with the right leadership and resources, targeted at the right people — we can achieve the goals.

Our third great imperative is the humanitarian imperative.  When disaster strikes, the United Nations is there.  We are the world’s first responder.  We are there with medicine, shelter and sanitation, food, water and protection. 

Quite often, I am there as well.  I am there to bear witness, to report back to Governments who can help, to coordinate the international response, and above all, to focus the world’s attention on problems that might otherwise be neglected.  That is why I went to Pakistan, most recently, after the recent floods that killed so many people.  That is why I went to Haiti after the earthquake, and why I will do everything possible to make sure the people of Haiti get the help they need today.

Speed makes all the difference.  Losing time means losing lives.  Two years ago, when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, the Government was initially reluctant to open its door to international relief.  It was impossible, for me, to stand by and see politics get in the way of saving lives.  We pressed the Government quite hard.  Eventually we got a breakthrough.  Aid began to flow.  Many thousands of lives were saved.

We did the same in Darfur.  For years, conflict raged, unchecked.  I made it a top priority immediately upon taking office.  With tough diplomacy, we got the first United Nations peacekeepers in.  Today, the mission continues to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian aid.  Sudan faces another challenge in January, with a referendum on unity or independence for Southern Sudan.  Should there be violence, we are ready to act.

Big crises dominate headlines.  But what of crises that do not register on the international consciousness?  The food crisis in Niger, for example, threatens millions.  The United Nations is there, as well, wherever and whenever crisis calls.  That is our humanitarian imperative.

We have been talking about collective action.  To the young people among us, I would like to say this:  thinking globally, acting collectively as global citizens, involves you — your engagement, your commitment, your conviction that you, yourself, can make a difference.

Forty years ago, a great American statesman, Dean Acheson, looked back at the excitement he felt in helping to build the post-Second World War order.  “Present at the Creation,” he called his memoir.

We here, today, find ourselves at an equally exciting moment, no less critical to the future of humankind.  We, too, are present at a new creation.  Everything is changing, everything is new.  We must find our own way, a very different way, with new risks and unprecedented opportunities.

The United Nations, as well, must constantly re-create itself.  We are fighting hatred, prejudice and extremism — old problems, but with new faces.  We continue to strengthen our work in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and conflict prevention.  The Whitehead School’s new programme in post-conflict stabilization is a welcome contribution.

We continue to fight for a safer world, by fighting the nuclear threat.  The conventional wisdom says that nuclear disarmament is utopian.  I say:  the real insecurity is the status quo.  The only one way to eliminate the risk of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons.  Here in the United States, a new START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] treaty with the Russian Federation is up for discussion and action.  We should hope it finds its place among other landmark agreements that have made the world a safer place. 

Above all, we continue our efforts to strengthen the United Nations from within.  We must evolve and keep pace with a rapidly changing world.  We must be faster and more flexible, efficient and effective, transparent and accountable.  In an age of austerity, we cannot waste the global taxpayers’ money.  Resources are precious; we must make every dollar count. 

We must mobilize all human resources as well.  This means tapping the world’s most underutilized resource:  women.  We will not be able to address any of the challenges I have outlined today without women.  We need women leaders.  We need the women of civil society to push for change.  And we need women to be healthy and educated, as is their right.  For these reasons and more, we have put women’s empowerment and gender equality at the center of our work.

A powerful new agency, UN Women, will soon begin work led by the dynamic former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet.  We now have more women in senior positions than ever before.  Our top lawyer, our top humanitarian, our top development administrator, our top climate negotiator, our human rights commissioner, the head of management, our top doctor, and even our top cop — all are women.

These are testing times.  People everywhere live in growing anxiety and fear.  There is near-universal loss of trust in institutions and leaders.  Amid such uncertainty, our future depends on how we work together.  Our future depends on a United Nations that can and does deliver; a United Nations that not only brings the countries of the world together to talk and debate, but to agree and to act; a United Nations that mobilizes civil society, business, philanthropists, and ordinary citizens to help the world’s Governments solve the problems of the day; a United Nations that delivers peace, development, human rights and global goods to people every day; and a United Nations that brings hope — and delivers on it.

You here today are not spectators.  You are a crucial part of this story.  You come from all over, and you live in a country of immense opportunity.  You attend a distinguished institution of higher learning, and you are good neighbours of the United Nations.  That means you have what it takes to help us deliver.

So please; I appeal to you:  Keep working with us.  Keep pushing us.  Keep inspiring us.  Help shape the world.  Help us to deliver what the world needs at this crucial moment.  I look forward to our continuing partnership.  It has been a real pleasure to be with you. And once again, I thank you for honouring me and the institution the world needs so much, the one and only United Nations.

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