Secretary-General, Reiterating Strategic Priorities in Humboldt University Address, Stresses Importance of Building ‘New Paths to the Future’

4 February 2011

Secretary-General, Reiterating Strategic Priorities in Humboldt University Address, Stresses Importance of Building ‘New Paths to the Future’

4 February 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, Reiterating Strategic Priorities in Humboldt University Address,


Stresses Importance of Building ‘New Paths to the Future’


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address at Humboldt University in Berlin on 4 February:

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you in this world-renowned very historical university with 200 years of history.

Just before, forgive me for being one year late to celebrate your 200th birthday of your university.  Not many schools around the world can boast of such a rich heritage.  Very few enjoy such global stature and can look towards such a prestigious future.

Walking in the footsteps of Einstein, Schopenhauer, and the pictures of many Nobel [laureates] - I understand 27 of your professors received Nobel Prizes - it’s quite [an honour] for me to meet with them even in an historical perspective.

Humboldt has given us the very best that universities have to offer — remarkable advances in the sciences and humanities.  But Humboldt has also seen its share of tragedy.  Book-burning during the Nazi era, an assault on academic values that you have memorialized on campus.  And then a split in the university itself, mirroring that of the city of Berlin.

You have lived through great change and upheaval.  Today is another era of transformation, of dramatic change in the global landscape, with new economic Powers emerging, and you have seen many countries like India, China, Brazil, a new generation of threats, and old ones taking new forms.  I am here to talk to you about those challenges which we are commonly facing and to enlist your support to work together with the United Nations to address all of these global challenges for the future of humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen, before I go into these substantive remarks, let me say a few words about what is happening in Egypt.  I know that each and every one of you has been very closely following the situation.  In fact, in the last few days, wherever I went, whomever I met, the first topic was, what do you think about the situation in Egypt?  What are the implications of this situation?

Regrettably, the situation during the last few days has taken a deeply troubling turn.  The violence and intimidation should stop.  In particular, the restrictions on the international media, journalists and human rights groups are utterly unacceptable.  Freedom of expression and assembly are basic human rights.  These are the fundamental principles of democracy, which have to be guaranteed.  These are essential democratic values.

I renew my call as Secretary-General of the United Nations for calm and restraint, and I urge the Egyptian authorities to listen to the genuine voices of the people.  Recently, since the beginning of the Tunisian situation, I have been stating publicly that leaders of the world should more attentively listen to the challenges of their genuine voices.  What are their aspirations and what are their wishes?

There is a need to define a process of national dialogue to work out an orderly and peaceful transition, a process that will allow the Egyptian people to express their wishes through free, fair and credible elections at the earliest possible moment, and that will pave the way for responsive, effective and accountable governance.  That process should start now, immediately.  Fundamental change and reform can wait no longer.  There is no time to lose.  What happens in Egypt will be crucial for peace and stability in the Middle East and the peace process in itself.

The United Nations since 2002 has been successively warning through our United Nations Arab Human Development Reports.  We have received a lot of protests, strong objections to those assessments, but now I believe that they will understand what the United Nations has been doing for the better future of the people.  The United Nations again stands ready to help the Egyptian people find the way forward.

These are very serious challenges which we have to overcome.  I believe Humboldt is well placed to contribute.  So is the United Nations Association of Germany.  You are a good friend.  All around the world we have many UN associations who are true friends, true supporters of the United Nations.  We need those supporters and friends like yourself, and thank you very much.

I have seen in my own life what the United Nations can do.  I was born at the end of World War II.  But my early days were with the Korean War.  I’ve seen myself the ravages of the Korean War.  The most troubling thing in my memory is that I had to look back at a burning village, my village — I was with my parents.  That is still vividly in my memory.  Fortunately, we received a lot of very generous support from the United Nations, the international community as a whole.  They helped my country to rebuild from a devastating war.

The United Nations fed me and my family, my entire nation.  The United Nations brought hope, symbolized for me to this day by the United Nations flag.  That is what I am doing now as Secretary-General of the United Nations.  While travelling to many developing countries, poor countries, I still see from the faces of many young people that they want hope from me, from the United Nations, and that makes me quite humble.  How can I bring hope to them?

There are still a billion people who go to bed hungry every night and there are still so many millions of young people who are dying needlessly, helplessly.  They are desperately trying, wanting helping hands from all of you, from the United Nations.

This is what I seek to do for others today.  To stand for the United Nations and its work.  To offer hope to the hopeless.  To defend those defenceless people.  Everywhere in the world, people are looking to the United Nations.  They ask us to do more than ever before.

And the scale of need is profound.  I hope young students, in your future, please try to do some humanitarian work.  You can be artists, you can be professors, you can take up public service, but if you do some humanitarian work you will understand what I am now telling you.  That may be even more useful for your long-term career.

There are so many conflicts, repression, intolerance.  Natural disasters that hit with greater fury and ever more frequently, as we have seen most recently.  Climate change, hunger and malnutrition, the financial crisis, the spread of deadly disease and weapons of mass destruction.

These challenges spill across borders.  They do not respect borders.  They have a global reach, unfortunately.  No single country or group of countries, however powerful, however resourceful, however rich they may be — you are one of the richest countries in the world — Germany, European Union — but you cannot do it alone.  We have to address this collectively, with concerted collective will and resources.

We must work in common cause for common solutions.  We must do this not just as a matter of pragmatic burden-sharing, though that is certainly reason enough.  No, we must do it because we are fated to live more of our lives in common, and because we must do more to prepare for that shared future.  Global communications in this era, the twenty-first century, have made us more aware of each other — what it is to be rich, what it is to be poor.  Webs of travel and trade have made us more dependent on each other, as well, whether you are rich or poor.

The idea that a small percentage, a very small percentage, of the human family can continue to enjoy freedoms and opportunities, while billions of others remain stuck in dire need, is no longer an option.  Just as opportunity must spread more broadly, so must social justice.  Human rights, and human opportunity, are everybody’s business.  We are a human family of 7 billion, each with a right to a certain measure of security, dignity and hope.

That is our common standard, our common challenge.  We need to do more — far more — to lay the foundations for our common future.  That mission was foremost in my mind, three weeks ago, when I reported to the Member States of the General Assembly of the United Nations my strategic priorities.

Sustainable development is one of the main building blocks.  For most of the last century, the world burned its way to prosperity and mined its way to growth.  We believed in consumption without thinking about the consequences.  These days are gone.  In the twenty-first century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high every day.

The old models and definitions do not work anymore; they are not just obsolete, they are dangerous, even suicidal, for humanity.  We need to reinvent what we mean by “progress”.  We need a revolution in our lifestyles; we need a revolution in how we live, a revolution in our relations with our planet.  Our challenge is to create sustainable growth in an age of scarcity, to lift people out of poverty while protecting the environment and ecosystems that support us.

We have to address what I call the “50-50-50 challenge”.  By 2050, the world population will grow by 50 per cent, reaching 9 billion.  By that time, we will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent.  That’s a 50-50-50 challenge.  Can we make this sustainable for our planet earth?  We only have one planet earth.  Many people believe that we may have some extra or two or three planet earths.  We have only one.

Two weeks ago I was in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, attending a world future energy summit.  There I heard very striking words from the young generation.  What they told the older generation is that we believe that we have inherited this planet earth from our ancestors.  They believe, the young generation, that this is not true, that you are borrowing temporarily this planet earth from us, from the young generation, so we turned this planet earth sustainable.

That, I think, is our responsibility.  That is our moral and political responsibility.  That is your responsibility.  And I really want to pass this planet earth to young students here who will be the leaders of tomorrow, in that condition.  For that, we have to work hard — much, much harder.

That is why, over the past four years, I have worked very hard with world leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, to elevate the climate change agenda to the top ranks of the global agenda.  Climate change leads us down an unsustainable path.  It is the path of the past that no longer works.  We need to build paths to the future.

You in Germany understand this.  You have a strong “green” movement.  You are pioneering renewable energy.  Bonn is the generous host for our Climate Change Secretariat — United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC — a leader of a groundswell change in global perceptions.

I hope Germany and its European Union partners will remain a driving force towards clean-energy growth, despite difficult economic times.  I’ve been speaking to European partners and leaders.  The European Union should play a positive role.  You have the most powerful engines.  The European Union should pull us and push us.  This is what I expect you should do.

Rethinking what we do — building for the future — also means connecting the dots among climate, water, food and security.  We have been dealing with these issues individually, separately; now we have to deal with this in a more comprehensive way, a broader way.  That is why I have established the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, who will recommend ways to do just that as we prepare for the Rio 2012 summit meeting next year — the next “Earth Summit”.

Making sustainable development happen also means focusing on those areas where smart investments can bring outsize gains.  One such multiplier effect stands out above all others: the health and well-being of the world’s women and girls, the world’s most underutilized resources.  At the United Nations General Assembly’s Millennium Development Goals Summit meeting last year, [I outlined] my Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health.  That is the highlight of that Summit meeting and we are going to focus on this Global Strategy.

I believe that when women, when mothers, are healthy, then children will be healthy.  The whole family is healthy, and society, the nation, internationally, the whole world will be healthy.  They will be empowered and we can fully utilize women’s unused potential.

Our strategy for realizing the Millennium Development Goals puts women, and girls, squarely at the centre of our development strategy.  Because that, as Americans say, is where to get the most “bang for your buck”.  Our newest agency, UN Women, is up and running from 1 January this year, strengthening our ability to advance women’s empowerment.

At the United Nations itself, I have made women’s empowerment a priority.  That is why we have increased the ranks of women in senior posts by more than 40 per cent in just four years.  In just four years, I have appointed the most number of women in the history of the United Nations, over six decades.  Our top lawyer, our top humanitarian, our top development administrator, our top climate negotiator, our human rights commissioner, the head of management - who is a German lady — our top doctor, and even our top cop - they are all women now.

Our shared future must also include the basics of security, human rights, rule of law, democratic governance and peace.  Strengthening this foundation for the future is the United Nations humanitarian imperative.  When disaster strikes, the United Nations is the world’s first responder.  We are there for emergencies that claim the headlines — Haiti and Pakistan, to name but two.

We are also there for those in need in the many places where the spotlight of international attention never falls — the hundreds of thousands of hungry people in Niger, the three million people we feed every day in Somalia.  The United Nations feeds 100 million people a day.  We take care of 34 million refugees.  This is a huge challenge.

We keep the peace in growing numbers of places — more than 120,000 soldiers and police personnel in 15 peacekeeping operations around the world.  We are a global presence — peacekeeping, peacebuilding, peacemaking, mediation, good offices and more — from Iraq to Lebanon, from Somalia to Sierra Leone, from Central Asia to Timor-Leste.

In Côte d’Ivoire, we have stood firmly.  A great deal is at stake; the fundamental principle of democracy is at stake, the integrity and unity of African Union is at stake, even the integrity of the United Nations is at stake if we do not resolve this issue.  When a former leader who has lost the election through freely expressed will in the vote just clings to power, using his existing army and security forces and bureaucratic institutions, that is a totally unacceptable situation.  The African Union has taken very strong measures so far and I was in Addis Ababa speaking with all the African leaders.

In Afghanistan, German forces are training the Afghan national security forces.  I know that deployment is not without domestic political controversy here in Germany.  But I can tell you it is essential for building Afghan institutions and offering hope for the future.

We are a thin blue line, if I may put it that way, in places of critical transition, countries emerging from conflict, or making the difficult passage to democracy.

In this era of change, the United Nations must change as well.  In an age of economic austerity, we must do more with what we have.  We must learn to be more efficient and effective, faster and more mobile, transparent and accountable.  Never has the United Nations been more relevant or more important.  Few careers today are more challenging, demanding, exciting than a career in global public service.

I hope some of you, as I said, the students with us this morning, will consider joining the United Nations.  I hope none of you will be mere spectators of the great events transforming our world at this time.  Your engagement is important.  You can make a difference as the leaders of the future.

I am the leader, we are the present, and all the professors are the leaders of today, but tomorrow you will have to be responsible for this world.  And so I urge you to join us.  Join your efforts with ours as a force for collective action at this great new “multilateral moment”.   Help us rethink and redefine our role in a changing world.  Help us to transform our world, to help a new generation find its rightful place in the world, to build a brighter future for all.

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