Secretary-General Encourages Leaders to Be Ambitious at Climate Conference in Durban, Diligent in Their Commitment to Achieving Results

7 December 2011

Secretary-General Encourages Leaders to Be Ambitious at Climate Conference in Durban, Diligent in Their Commitment to Achieving Results

7 December 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Encourages Leaders to Be Ambitious at Climate Conference


in Durban, Diligent in Their Commitment to Achieving Results

Following are UN Secretary-General’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the seventeenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change high-level ministerial dinner, in Durban, South Africa, 7 December: 

I am delighted to join you this evening and to see so many familiar faces.  This is the fifth Conference of Parties that I have attended, beginning with Bali in my first year as Secretary-General.  In that time we have seen important progress.  But as we all know, a great deal remains to be done to put the world on a safer, more sustainable path.

There is something different about this Conference of Parties.  It is the first since the global population topped 7 billion.  We have reached a new milestone as a human family.  With 7 billion of us now inhabiting our planet, it is time to ask some fundamental questions.

How can we provide a dignified life for ourselves and future generations while preserving and protecting the global commons — the atmosphere, the oceans and the ecosystems that support us?  How can we build the future we want?

Looking ahead, more than 9 billion people may inhabit our planet by mid-century.  That is a 50 per cent increase in the first 50 years of this century.  In the same period, we will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent to avert a climate change disaster.  This is what I call the “50-50-50” challenge.  You and your Governments are a major part of meeting the challenge.  As I said yesterday, we need to make this conference a profile in political courage. 

But climate change is just one of a complex set of challenges we face in the coming decades — the challenges of sustainable development.  Climate change, demographics, water, food, energy, global health, women’s empowerment — these issues are all intertwined.  We cannot look at one strand in isolation.  Instead, we must examine how these strands are woven together.  We must create a fabric that will support not just 7 but 9 billion and more people sharing one planet in a more equitable, sustainable manner.

That is why we must make sustainable development our priority.  It is central to everything we do.  Nearly 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit, we see more clearly than ever that economic growth, environmental protection and social equity are one and the same agenda:  the sustainable development agenda.  We cannot make lasting progress in one without progress on all.

We have much to learn, and not much time.  Human degradation of the environment continues at an alarming pace.  Our excessive dependence on fossil fuels to power the global economy is polluting our lungs and skies and endangering our atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. 

There is a better way to do things; a safer, healthier and more economically robust way to advance human well-being and the health of the home we share — planet Earth.

Climate change is a prime example.  Climate change is a global problem requiring a global solution grounded in national actions.  The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) negotiating process has already prompted countries around the world to take steps in the right direction.  At least 118 countries — half of them developing countries — have put in place some form of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level.  So, too, have a number of States and local governments.  Numerous cities have embarked on energy efficiency and climate adaptation efforts.  These are excellent steps that can strengthen confidence and help spur momentum in the negotiations.

Here in Durban, I expect Governments to take the next steps towards a binding comprehensive global agreement, while accelerating their national actions on the ground.  My Sustainable Energy for All Initiative is another example of how we can build the future we want.  Consider the need.  One person in five lacks access to modern energy.  Three billion people rely on charcoal or wood for cooking and heating.  They are energy-poor.  And energy poverty is a threat to the achievement all of the Millennium Development Goals.  It holds back economic growth and job creation. 

The answer is to provide access to affordable energy for all.  But that energy must be clean.  We cannot burn our way to prosperity.  One of the best ways to minimize the risks of dangerous climate change is by ensuring that energy is sustainable. 

That is why I am calling for practical and large-scale action around three objectives, all to be achieved by 2030:  first, ensuring universal access to modern energy services; second, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; third, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.  These objectives are ambitious.  But they are necessary.  And they are achievable.  Together, they can help to revitalize the global economy, combat climate change, and expand equity.  This is a triple win for all. 

Next year, world leaders will address these issues at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to mobilize support for sustainable energy, for strengthening climate resilience and for expanding equitable, inclusive growth.  Its success depends on Governments, the private sector and civic groups working in partnership. 

Each of us must be a part of the solution.  Delay carries a high cost.  Acting today saves money, creates new jobs and green industries and enhances our common security and prosperity.  I assure you that the United Nations will do all it can to help countries move down a more sustainable path.  I encourage you to be ambitious in your efforts here in Durban, and diligent in your commitment to achieving results.  Thank you.

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