Secretary-General Lauds Work of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Setting High Standards for Others; Notes Budget Challenges Ahead

18 October 2011

Secretary-General Lauds Work of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Setting High Standards for Others; Notes Budget Challenges Ahead

18 October 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Lauds Work of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe,


Setting High Standards for Others; Notes Budget Challenges Ahead


This is the text of remarks by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today to the Executive Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in Geneva:

Thank you for your warm welcome.  It is a privilege to be here.  I am grateful for your support and the strong support from your respective Governments.  You can count on me as I am going to start my second term.  I will try to use this opportunity to highlight your achievements.  Hard as it may be to believe, this is the first time a Secretary-General of the United Nations has met with this body.  Such a session is long overdue.

Of course, I am well aware that the Executive Committee offers a vital platform for regular and frank dialogue between Member States and the Secretariat.  And I know about the many tangible results the UNECE has delivered over the years.  Many other people, however, may not be aware of your contribution to the diverse products and services they use almost every day.

Yet I am confident that when they buy safer cars or fresh fruit — when they breathe cleaner air or enjoy a protected environment — when they cross borders with relative ease — they greatly appreciate your efforts to help make it so.  These and other achievements have spread far beyond your region, making UNECE a go-to source for improving global public goods and services.  Indeed, I understand that more than 100 countries beyond your membership participate in your work and benefit from it in one way or another.

Last month, at the opening of the UN General Assembly, I set out five imperatives — five opportunities to shape the world of tomorrow.  UNECE is well placed to contribute in each.

The first is sustainable development.  Before this month is out, the human family will welcome its 7 billionth citizen.  We face what I often call the 50‑50‑50 challenge.

In the first 50 years of this century, the global population will reach 9 billion.  It will have increased by 50 per cent.  By that time, we will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent to avert a climate change disaster.  Your work from eco-innovation to environmental conventions; from forestry to trade and transport has great potential to help us meet this challenge.  I also welcome your contribution to the Rio+20 process, including the recent Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Astana.  And I look forward to the conclusions of your upcoming regional preparatory meeting in December.  I will also look to UNECE to help sustain global momentum to fight climate change, including through support for my new Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which I launched last month.

The second imperative is prevention.  Prevention typically means political mediation before conflict erupts.  And indeed, we are strengthening our capacities to do just that.  But prevention encompasses a wider agenda, including the rule of law, human rights, disaster-risk reduction and development in general.  Your work on water and energy resources in Central Asia, including dam safety, fits well in this picture.  Those efforts address both a crucial nexus of issues and a potential source of conflict.  Your Water Convention deserves support and I hope it will soon become open to countries outside the UNECE region.

The third imperative is building a safer and more secure world.  Your work on building economic ties between Central Asia and Afghanistan is a solid contribution to stability and security in that fragile region.  Your contributions also include work on the safety of roads and coal mines, and the improved functioning of border crossings to combat illegal trafficking.

Fourth, supporting nations in transition.  Your long history of supporting transitions in East and South-East Europe and the former Soviet Union speaks for itself.  Already, there have been significant contacts and exchanges between the emerging democracies in North Africa and the Middle East and Europeans who have travelled their own path and can share their successes and setbacks.

These new transitions are now at difficult moments, making your engagement all the more important.

Finally, my fifth imperative is doing more for women and youth.  We need the full engagement of both — in government, business and civil society.  I welcome UNECE’s work on women entrepreneurship, gender statistics and ageing.  Young people, as we have seen throughout this year in particular, are using technology and creativity to drive political and social change.  We must do more to create decent jobs and opportunities for them.

I have spoken so far about what UNECE does; let me also commend how UNECE does it.  I welcome your practice of involving hundreds of national experts and practitioners from governments, academia and the business community in your deliberations.  This ensures that your work is “owned” and credible, and that your norms, standards and recommendations “hold water”.  You are also sharing best practices within the UN system.  And you are forging closer ties with important regional organizations such as the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], the CIS — the Commonwealth of Independent States — and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization.  Many of the norms and standards developed first by UNECE are being used more and more by the European Union and, more recently, by the Eurasian Economic Community and the Customs Union.  This is a genuine contribution to stronger economic cooperation and integration.  This is the power of partnership that will be so crucial to our shared success in the future.

Reform is yet another main priority.  I welcome UNECE’s contribution to the change management process which I launched recently within the Secretariat.  I know that you are embarking on the important process of reviewing your most recent round of reform to determine what more must be done to respond to a changing European and global environment.  I thank UNECE for its action when I introduced cuts for the next budget cycle.

Here I must speak frankly.  We will continue to face budgetary and fiscal constraints, as we see so starkly here in Europe.  Indeed, shortfalls in funding are forcing many difficult choices in Geneva, in New York, and around the world.  This causes frustration, because we know the need for our expertise and services is great.  But we must face facts.  Tight budgets are simply a reality.  This is not an easy exercise.  But it is necessary and urgent.  It is a process that requires vision and leadership from us all.

Our world faces an increasingly complex set of realities.  Many people are disillusioned with the established order; there is distrust in institutions; and a general sense that the playing field is tilted in favour of entrenched interests and elites.  We need to forge a common agenda that can address the challenges and yearnings of people, and help ensure that future generations grow up in a world of sustainable peace, prosperity, and progress.

I am deeply concerned by the sharp deterioration in the global economic situation and the crisis facing Europe.  Many economies in Europe are in a fragile situation.  The risks for a double-dip recession are alarmingly high.  I am particularly concerned over the uncertain prospect for job creation, especially for the youth.  Governments and business must work together to create a better environment and incentives for increasing employment opportunities.  If we fail to take action now, we are likely to face much higher costs to address the problems that will be compounded.  I think the United Nations, including UNECE, should continue to examine carefully the underlying causes of the current crisis, look into the longer-term reforms needed to address gaps and weaknesses, and propose sound policy options for Member States to consider.

Your support is essential.  Thank you again for the opportunity to come before you today.  And I look forward to working closely with you in our shared journey.  Thank you very much.

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