Urging ‘Big Thinking and Bold Action’, Secretary-General Stresses Need for More Engaged, Visionary Global Leadership in Address to Auckland University

6 September 2011

Urging ‘Big Thinking and Bold Action’, Secretary-General Stresses Need for More Engaged, Visionary Global Leadership in Address to Auckland University

6 September 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Urging ‘Big Thinking and Bold Action’, Secretary-General Stresses Need for More

Engaged, Visionary Global Leadership in Address to Auckland University


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at Auckland University today, 6 September:

Thank you.  Thank you for this very warm welcome.  What a pleasure it is to be here in New Zealand, here at famous Auckland University, my first full day in this most beautiful country.

Let me begin with a small confession:  this may be my first time on campus, but I often feel that I have benefited from an Auckland University education.  It happens whenever I sit down with the leader running our United Nations development work around the world — the first woman ever to hold that very important position — Auckland University’s own Helen Clark.

It happens whenever I listen and learn from other experienced voices in diplomacy, business, and civil society who graduated from this fine institution.  As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister of Samoa, whom I met just this morning, is also an Auckland graduate.

And it’s good to know that you not only specialize in training for policy and politics, but also peace and security.  I sometimes feel we could all use a little of the spirit of Auckland alumna Lucy Lawless – Xena the Warrior Princess.

As you know, I have just come from a visit to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.  I was the first Secretary-General to visit these amazing places.  And I am here in New Zealand to attend the Summit meeting of Pacific Island leaders.

Now I know that the Pacific Island Forum is not the only game in town.  This week, New Zealand is the magnificent meeting ground of both the world of diplomacy and the world of rugby.  I have come to realize that those worlds are not as different as you might think.  In rugby, you lose teeth.  In diplomacy, you lose face.

Rugby scrums confuse anyone who doesn’t know the game.  So do United Nations debates.  And sometimes they can look very similar.  And yet, in heart and spirit, the Rugby World Cup is a celebration, a celebration of common values and a way of life:  teamwork; mutual respect; solidarity.  The qualities of grit and determination — all very useful, I have found, in the world of diplomacy.

In that spirit, I wish the All Blacks well.  I also want to pay tribute to your resilience and determination to go forward in the wake of the tragic Christchurch earthquake — and I thank you for your commitment to disaster risk reduction, not only here in New Zealand but throughout the globe.

It is fitting that New Zealand plays host to the world.  Kiwis are famed for warmth and hospitality – also for your global perspective, your outreach to the world.  I know that the “OE” – the Overseas Experience – is a meaningful part of the individual lives of so many New Zealanders.  In fact, it defines your national character.  More than almost any other country, you are people of the world.  And you have helped lead the world, proving yet again that small countries can often have outsized influence.

Long ago, New Zealand was the first nation on earth to embrace universal suffrage.  Today, you are a strong and consistent supporter of the Millennium Development Goals, and a major donor to your neighbours in the Pacific.  I thank you for your leadership.

We are on the eve of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.  There is nothing quite like it.  Every year world leaders from every nation — large and small, near and far — come together to focus on the big issues of our age.  This year, we meet at an especially crucial time as we face an increasingly complex set of realities.

Look at the geopolitical landscape:  sweeping democratic movements in North Africa and across the Middle East; global economic turmoil coupled with tectonic shifts in global power that blur old distinctions — East versus West, North versus South, rich versus poor; accelerating climate change; a rising incidence of mega-disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

This is a time of global transition and global uncertainty.  We are at a pivot-point in history when the old world is slowly but irreversibly changing and the contours of a new world are just beginning to take shape.  Every country, every region, is seeking to find its footing.  Meanwhile, traditional institutions are being challenged.  Budgets are being squeezed.  Families are being stressed.

All of this flux and churning creates enormous anxiety.  You see it everywhere — in up-and-down stock markets, in rising and falling commodities prices, including food and oil, in social unrest and widespread disillusion with established Governments.  This is no time for business as usual.  Our times demand something different – a sharper focus, a more engaged and visionary global leadership.  We need big thinking and bold action.

To make the most of this moment, we must come together for our common future.  No country can take on these challenges alone.  There is no opt-out clause for global problem-solving.  Maori wisdom puts it best:  He waka eke noa — “We are all in this canoe together.”  In other words, we must unite and squarely face the anxieties and the opportunities of the twenty-first century.

Today, let me speak about two of the biggest challenges:  security and sustainability.

First, the security challenge.  Six months ago, the international community came together to protect the people of Libya from a massacre by their own Government.  A few days ago, in Paris, the international community came together in a second critical mission — to help a new Libya recover from a tragic conflict and to assist the Libyan people to fulfil their dreams for peace, democracy and prosperity.

You have all been following the news, I know.  But let me emphasize something you may not fully appreciate:  these encouraging developments did not “just happen”, as if by accident.  They are part of a broader trend, an evolution that has gained enormous force over the past six months alone.  It began in Côte d’Ivoire, in West Africa.  There, an intransigent autocrat refused to stand down after being defeated in a free and fair democratic election.

The United Nations stepped up, supported by the international community.  And this spring, after months of conflict, we saw a new democratic Government ushered into office – a huge victory for democracy and human rights, not only in Africa but everywhere.

We passed another test this summer, where the international community helped the people of North and South Sudan end Africa’s longest civil war and start a new chapter.  I was there in Juba, the new capital of South Sudan, to help celebrate the new nation’s independence.  We are all mindful of the potential dangers ahead.  Yet I take great encouragement in the role of the international community in assuring that this transition was largely peaceful.

During the Arab Spring, the United Nations spoke out clearly and early.  We called on the region’s leaders to listen to their people, to respond to their aspirations for change with bold reforms before it was too late.  In Syria, publicly and privately, I have repeatedly urged President Bashar al-Assad to end the excessive use of force by his security forces, to initiate reform.  Yet the violence continues.

In crises such as these, the international community must do its utmost to act in concert, consistent with our common and most sacred values.  We must do what we can to protect people threatened with extreme violence for exercising basic rights.  In situations where a Government cannot, or will not, protect its people, we have a common obligation to act.

At the United Nations, in cases such as genocide or crimes against humanity, we are called upon to exercise a responsibility to protect.  Of course, the best form of protection is prevention.  That is why we have strengthened the United Nations capacity for preventive diplomacy.  It is not always possible to predict and prevent crises and violence.  But we have seen the results of preventive action – from keeping the transition to democracy on track in Guinea, to easing tensions in Kyrgyzstan, to heading off a dangerous political crisis in Kenya.

There is no sustainable security, no true guarantor of peace, without sustainable development.  That brings us to my second main theme; when I report to the General Assembly later this month, I will call on the international community to make sustainable development a top priority.  That means finding the linkages and making the connections between policy challenges – climate change, water, energy, food, global health and women’s empowerment.  It means recognizing that solutions to one problem can be solutions to many.

Start with climate change.  For those who believe climate change is about some distant future, I invite them to Kiribati.  Climate change is not about tomorrow.  It is lapping at our feet — quite literally — in Kiribati and elsewhere.  This region is on the front of the front lines of climate challenge.

The ocean economy is a lifeline for this region.  But with waves rising ever higher in this neighbourhood, the oceans are also sending a signal that something is seriously wrong with our current model of economic development.

We will not succeed in reducing emissions without sustainable energy solutions.  New Zealand is a leader.  The vast majority of your energy comes from renewable sources.  I thank you for that commitment and assure you of my own:  I will keep fighting for climate change solutions that are fair for all.

Finally, let me add that growth cannot be sustainable if it is not broadly shared.  That is why we must tackle growing inequality around the world.  Even in the wealthiest countries, we see growing pockets of poverty.  And even in the poorest, the conspicuous consumption of a few stirs a simmering pot of resentment.  Today, the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population hold just 4 per cent of its income.  And there are no signs of improvement.

Something has to give.  In fact, there is no need to speculate whether this is a recipe for instability, violence, conflict.  Open any newspaper.  Look out the window.  Around the world, we see youth unemployment soaring.  We see societies pulling apart.  And we see yet more evidence that security and sustainability are two sides of the same coin.

This may be a sober survey of our world.  But I don’t believe we should sugar-coat challenges, least of all to our young people.  The complexity of today’s global landscape is unprecedented.  It requires a degree of cooperation that is also unprecedented.

But let me tell you something else I know from my travels around the world:  these problems have solutions — each and every one.  We have witnessed stunning progress in a short time:  more effective disease control; a growing number of children in primary education; cutting-edge technology making possible new energy systems, modes of transportation, greener buildings; more and more people insisting on their rights.

The world community is more engaged and more eager to take charge of their lives.  And, my friends, in many ways, that effort starts with you — the young people of our world.  You are the most potent force to hold leaders to account, to transform your communities, to build a better world.  So I urge you:  don’t wait for others; get engaged, speak out.

The most important lesson I have learned as Secretary-General is that we will never achieve any of our goals unless everyone does their part — government leaders, yes, but also journalists, business people and activists, academics and artists, students and citizens.  The power is in our hands.

I know that quite often what we might have in our hands is this, but remember one thing:  this mobile phone can connect and mobilize in ways we could not have imagined even in the short time you have been in university.  Technology will continue to shape and transform our lives.

But let us not mistake being connected with being united.  Being more connected depends on technology.  Being more united depends on us — on leaders, on institutions, on you.  Use your power for the common good.  Help us realize our promise to all the world’s peoples.  Be something larger than yourself.  And, I guarantee, you will never regret it.

Remember we are all in the same canoe.  Let’s row together to a better future for all.

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