Climate Change Shows Old Model Not Only Dated, but Dangerous, Secretary-General Says at University of Sydney, Warning: ‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future’

8 September 2011

Climate Change Shows Old Model Not Only Dated, but Dangerous, Secretary-General Says at University of Sydney, Warning: ‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future’

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

Climate Change Shows Old Model Not Only Dated, but Dangerous, Secretary-General

Says at University of Sydney, Warning:  ‘We Cannot Burn Our Way to the Future’

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at Sydney University today, 8 September:

Thank you for your warm welcome.  It is wonderful to be here.  Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet — the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.  I want to thank all of you for accommodating my visit.  More often than not, my schedule is not my own.  I deeply appreciate your flexibility and understanding.

I am the first Secretary-General to visit Australia in more than a decade — and now I have been here twice in one week.  I am wrapping up an amazing journey that has taken me throughout the region - from Canberra to the Solomon Islands, from Kiribati to Auckland.  That is where I took part in the Pacific Islands Forum.  It was the first time a United Nations Secretary-General attended the leaders’ meeting.

In Auckland, where the Rugby World Cup will open tomorrow, I pointed out that there are more parallels than one might think between rugby and diplomacy.  In rugby, some say success is when rivals break bones; and in diplomacy, you have super-Powers battling each other for global dominance.  In rugby you have the Wallabies and the All Blacks; I am a seasoned diplomat, but I know my limits.  I won’t try to resolve that dispute.  But I do look forward to enjoying the matches and I wish you and the Wallabies all the best.

This is the last full day of my trip.  I can think of no better place to spend it than with all of you — the young people of Australia, the future of this great country.  Australia is an integral part of the United Nations.  You are a founding member of the United Nations.  The first President of the Security Council, Norman Makin, was an Australian.  And your country’s commitment goes back even further.  In many ways, it starts right here.

One of the drafters of the United Nations Charter was a graduate of the University of Sydney — Herbert “Doc” Evatt.  He went on to become the President of the General Assembly.  Doc Evatt was a global champion for advancing the rights and interests of smaller nations, and speaking up for social justice.  Article 56 of the United Nations Charter — which underscores economic and social development and human rights — bears his distinct imprint.  Thanks to his work, it is known as “the Australian pledge”.

Through the years, Australia has continued to advance our common values across many parts of our agenda.  You have helped defuse tensions in the region, including in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.  You were the first country to contribute troops to a United Nations peacekeeping mission.  Ever since, your troops have served the cause of peace from Cambodia to Cyprus to Afghanistan.  And Australia has been a pivotal force on many of the leading issues of our age — tackling global poverty, advancing the Millennium Development Goals, promoting disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons.

These twenty-first century challenges are too big for any country or region to solve alone.  The world is too connected, our fates too intertwined.  We need each other.  Australia gets it.  Your leadership in the region and around the world shows that.  My sense from my travels is that people around the world get it, too.  And they expect leaders to work together, to solve problems, to build on common ground and provide them — as Australians put it so well — a “fair go” in life.

I know there is a lot of competing noise out there.  In times of great transition — in moments of dramatic change — there is no shortage of things to be anxious about.  A shaky global economy, rising intolerance, unrest, wars, acts of terrorism.  But let me tell you where I come from.  I grew up in poverty and war in Korea.  The United Nations saved my family and my country.  I know the future belongs to those who act together to advance our common values.  This is both the opportunity and the obligation that faces us today.

Let’s start with what is in the news.  As you know, my speech was rescheduled because of a conference on the future of Libya.  Across North Africa and beyond, a revolution of hope has taken hold.  The people of Libya and beyond have taken great risks to assert their basic freedoms and human rights.  Now they need us to support these democratic transitions.  I want to thank Australia for being one of the world’s leading donors of humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya.

The transition process will move at different speeds in different places.  But we cannot let it slip into reverse.  That is why the United Nations will keep working to help the Libyan people realize their legitimate aspirations.  Libya was an instance of the world acting together to protect people when their Government could not or would not.  It was an example of what we call the responsibility to protect, an important norm that Australia helped to develop.

Around the world, we are working to make that principle real and operational.  In Syria, I have repeatedly urged President [Bashar al-] Assad to end the excessive and lethal use of force by his security forces against the Syrian people, and to engage in meaningful reforms.  Yet the violent repression against civilians, including mass arrests, continues.

When the former President of Côte d’Ivoire tried to steal an election through bloodshed earlier this year, the United Nations stepped up and stopped it.  We sent a clear message across the region that democracy must be upheld and the voice of the people respected.  The international community must do its part to protect people threatened with extreme violence for exercising basic rights.

In the end, around the world, sustainable peace must be built on sustainable development.  Next month, the 7 billionth citizen of our world will be born.  For that child, and for all of us, we must keep working to fight poverty, create decent jobs and provide a dignified life while preserving the planet that sustains us.  That is why I have said that the sustainable development agenda is the agenda for the twenty-first century.

Above all, that means connecting the dots between challenges such as climate change and water scarcity, energy shortages, global health issues, food insecurity and the empowerment of the world’s women.  On the surface, these might seem like distinct issues, but they are linked.  And we have to find those linkages.  In Korea, we have a proverb that says it doesn’t matter how many beads you have, without a thread, you will never make a necklace.  We need to find the thread.

Tragically, today we see many examples where we failed to do that early enough or fast enough.  Look no further than the crisis in the Horn of Africa.  Conflict, high food prices and drought have left more than 12 million lives at risk.  As Australia knows too well, extreme weather events such as increased floods, rains and droughts continue to grow more frequent and intense as climate change accelerates.  They not only devastate lives, but wipe out infrastructure, institutions and budgets.  Some economists predicted the flood damage could exceed $30 billion.

From the Horn of Africa to Western Europe, from Pakistan to the Pacific Islands, we see the urgency for action.  Competition between communities and countries for scarce resources — especially water — is increasing.  Environmental migrants are starting to reshape the human geography of the planet.  This will only increase as sea levels rise and deserts advance.

I know, once again, there are the sceptics.  Those who say climate change is not real.  But the facts are clear:  global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise; millions of people are suffering today from climate impacts; climate change is very real.  For those still in doubt, I invite them to take a trip to Kiribati.  Look into the eyes of the young boy who told me, “I am afraid to sleep at night” because of the rising water.  Talk with the parents who told me how they stood guard fearing that their children might drown in their own homes when the tide came in.

In this struggle, there is one resource that is scarcest of all, and that is time.  We are running out of time.  In the first 50 years of this century, the population will increase by 50 per cent and global emissions will need to decrease by 50 per cent.  This is what I call the 50–50–50 challenge.

Climate change is showing that the old model is not only dated, it is dangerous.  We cannot burn our way to the future.  The sceptics may say, “Why bother?  No one else is acting on this challenge, why should we?”  But scores of countries are heading down a lower-carbon path because they know it is good for their economies and good for the health and well-being of their people.

China has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by up to 45 per cent in the next decade.  It now produces half of the world’s wind and solar equipment and is growing its capacity rapidly.  It has already surpassed the United States to lead the world in installed clean-energy capacity.  The European Union has committed to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, regardless of what actions other countries take.  The European Union’s commitment has not wavered, even in the face of tough economic times.

Mexico has launched a plan to reduce 51 million tons of carbon dioxide next year alone.  That’s equal to four-and-a-half years of pollution from all the vehicles in Mexico City.  Korea devoted 80 per cent of its stimulus programme to green growth, an investment that stands to deliver major economic, as well as environmental, benefits.  India is also in the race, planning to increase investment in the clean energy sector by more than 350 per cent in this decade.

Japan is aiming to create 1.4 million new green jobs.  Denmark is moving to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.  Brazil committed to reducing its deforestation rate by 80 per cent by the year 2020 and is years ahead of schedule – even as it also continues to prove renewable energy can power a major economy.

Around the world, wind, solar and geothermal energy are becoming more cost competitive.  Local governments and large corporations are contributing as well.  Look no further than right here in Australia — the Sustainable Sydney initiative to reduce carbon emissions in this city by 70 per cent over the next 20 years.

These actions are vital on their own, but they can also inspire progress in the global negotiations, creating a virtuous cycle.  This is a global race to save the planet.  But it is also a race to see which countries and economies will forge the path to creating green sustainable jobs.  I hope Australia will lead the way — for your own good, as well as that of our planet.

Let me say a word about the global negotiations.  Once again the sceptics will say there is nothing to show for it.  Once again they are wrong.  The Bali Road Map in 2007 launched comprehensive negotiations that have led to global progress.  Starting with Copenhagen in 2009 and affirmed in Cancun last year, for the first time ever, all countries agreed on the goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 2° Celsius.

On monitoring and verification, Governments are working to strengthen accountability and openness through an agreed mechanism to ensure that all countries are adhering to their pledges.  For the first time ever, countries have made large pledges on financing.  On forests, Governments have agreed on an action plan to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – REDD plus.  Cancun also delivered an adaptation framework to protect the vulnerable and a mechanism for sharing green technologies.

This wide-ranging global process has given us important tools.  We need to keep building, including at the climate conference later this year in Durban.  We need ambitious mitigation targets that ensure that any increase in global average temperature remains below 2° C.  Moreover, given that the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, a political formula must be found to ensure that a robust, post-2012 climate regime is agreed upon, and is not delayed by negotiating gamesmanship.  At the same time, climate finance, the sine qua non for progress, must move from concept to reality – with delivery of “fast start” financing and agreement on sources of long-term financing.

Next year’s “ Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will also be an important opportunity.  We must make sustainable development for all our top priority.  It is only in that broader framework that we can address climate change and the needs of our citizens.

Whether it is securing peace or sustainable development, our chances of success have multiplied when we have grasped the promise of the future and acted together.  When the first President of the Security Council, Australian Norman Makin, gavelled that historic meeting to order 65 years ago, he said something that speaks to us today.  He said:  “Cooperation rests…on the will of the people of the world to work for peace.  A real will to peace must spring not from fear, but from positive faith in the brotherhood of men.”  In other words, in people, in nations united, in you and in me.

A few weeks ago, I went back to my home village in Korea.  I visited my high school.  To this day, I remember the advice my teacher gave to me.  He said:  “Put your head above the clouds but keep your feet on the ground.”  Dream.  Look over the horizon.  Be an idealist.  But, at the same time, be grounded and practical.

That is my advice to you.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Think big.  Use your passion to make a difference, to be a part of something larger than yourself.  Don’t let the cynics hold you back.  You can change the world.

Let us harness that spirit, that positive faith, to build a better world for all.  Let us all ensure a fair go for everyone.

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