Join UN Campaign for Peace, Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Secretary-General Urges at Alliance of Civilization Youth Forum

12 December 2011

Join UN Campaign for Peace, Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Secretary-General Urges at Alliance of Civilization Youth Forum

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

Join UN Campaign for Peace, Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability,

Secretary-General Urges at Alliance of Civilization Youth Forum

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks as prepared for delivery to the Youth Event at the Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Doha, Qatar, on 10 December:

It is a pleasure to be with you at the closing of this Youth Forum.  I trust that your day has been lively and your discussions very energetic.

Let me begin with a flight of imagery — something that inspires me, and that I hope will inspire you.  At 10:49 p.m. on 6 March 2009, a rocket soared into the midnight skies over Cape Canaveral in Florida.  It carried the Kepler spacecraft, a powerful telescope named after the famous astronomer of many centuries ago.  Its mission:  to probe our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the millions and ultimately billions of stars that might by accident or destiny be home to a solar system like our own.

Just a few days ago, it found a likely candidate — a planet revolving around a sun like our own — roughly 6,000 trillion kilometres away.  Perhaps, it might host life — though we must recognize that the odds are long.  Such a planet would have to be on a perfect trajectory, neither too far nor too close to its sun.  It must rotate in just the right way, so that there is a balance of night and day — neither too hot nor too cold.  And then there must be the mysterious miracle of life.

As I say, ladies and gentlemen, the odds against all this are long indeed.  Personally, I do not know whether humankind is alone in this vast universe.  But, I do know that we should cherish our existence on this precious speck of matter — the greatest gift that could be bestowed upon us.

For all practical purposes, there is only one planet Earth.  Our hopes and plans, the future that awaits our children and grandchildren, all is invested here.  There is no planet B.  No planet C or D.  We have only this Earth and it is up to us to preserve it.

As I see it, our future is at risk, yours and mine, but also more broadly the future of humankind.  You know the threats as well as I:  climate change, environmental destruction, growing scarcities of essential resources — water, food, energy, the clean air we breathe.

Perhaps, I speak this way because I represent an older generation.  I have lived a rich life in my six decades.  You are young and now it is your turn.  It is your turn to do all you can to care for our planet.  You understand that, with just one Earth, we cannot afford to fight over religion, race or any of the other categories that separate us.  You understand that we need to join together, which is why you are here today in Doha.

I understand that the Alliance will soon launch a global contest to find youth ambassadors.  Many young people are already sharing their talents.  Like Aleksandar Simić, a young Serbian who composed a musical piece for the Alliance called “Under one Roof”.  We are, indeed, all under the same roof.

We live at a unique moment in human history.  We recognize the fragility of our beautiful planet.  We recognize our vulnerability to changes in the air and resources around us.  That is why world leaders gathered for the climate change conference in Durban last week.  We are trying to protect this planet to preserve it for future generations.

I sometimes call this the great “multilateral moment” — a time for all nations, all people, to come together in common cause in the name of our global humanity.  The challenges before us are challenges that no nation can deal with on its own.  To overcome them, we have to join forces.

In June, six months from now, the world will come together in Rio.  Two decades ago, they called it the “Earth Summit”.  Today we call it “ Rio+20”.  By whatever name, we know that we need more than an ordinary summit.  This is no time for business as usual.

In Rio, we hope to chart a new path for development, sustainable development, which means growth consistent with the limitations and opportunities of our natural world.

You understand that.  There are nearly 2 billion young people in our world.  You are connected like no generation in history.  Yet, being connected is not the same as being united.  I hope you will unite; unite with the United Nations.  Join our campaign for peace, human rights and environmental sustainability.  Let us, together, create a movement; a movement for change, a movement of all nations and all people, united, to advance the great causes of our day.

That really, in a nutshell, is how I see my role as United Nations Secretary-General.  As you can imagine, I travel widely.  I meet with presidents and prime ministers, refugees and relief workers.  Most of all, I meet ordinary people.  I go to see for myself, to listen, to hear them tell of the troubles in their daily lives, as well as their hopes for themselves, their children and their children’s children.

I particularly like to meet groups of young people such as yourselves.  Since I became Secretary-General five years ago, I have seen youth participate at the United Nations as never before.  Last year, in a remarkable innovation, the Security Council held its first-ever meeting to hear from young leaders.

I was so impressed by them.  I remember one young woman, especially.  The world is spending huge amounts of money on war and weapons.  Yet, if our goal is peace, she asked the Council:  “Why don’t we spend more of that money buying food and shelter for those who need it?”  This is an excellent question.  It goes to the heart of our work at the United Nations and it speaks to our future as a global civilization.

In that same spirit, I would like to hear from you.  Please, ask me your toughest questions.  They can relate to United Nations policies or programmes or the state of the world.  Or they can be more personal, relating to me and my own background and view of the world, or to your own hopes and concerns.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do promise to make your voices heard.  And let me close by saying that I am a great optimist, in large part because of my faith in you and your future.

The planet that the Kepler spacecraft found last week is a symbol; a symbol of humankind's most noble aspirations, our extraordinary potential for exploration and achievement.  Yet, it is also a reminder.  One trillion kilometres is a long, long way away.  This Earth is our only home.  Together, we must protect and cherish it.

I am counting on you.

* *** *

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