Current Period of ‘Great Transition’ Has Economic, Developmental, Political Dimensions, Secretary-General Says in Remarks at Stanford University

18 January 2013

Current Period of ‘Great Transition’ Has Economic, Developmental, Political Dimensions, Secretary-General Says in Remarks at Stanford University

18 January 2013
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Current Period of ‘Great Transition’ Has Economic, Developmental, Political


Dimensions, Secretary-General Says in Remarks at Stanford University


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks on “The United Nations in a World in Transition, as prepared for delivery at Stanford University in Palo Alto on 17 January:

Thank you for your warm welcome.  It is a real pleasure to be here at this prestigious university.  Stanford has certainly made its mark on the world.  You dominate the field.  You tackle obstacles.  You reach your goal.

And that’s just your football team.  Congratulations on winning the Rose Bowl.  And while I am at it, let me also salute your outstanding women’s basketball team.

Stanford’s success on the playing field has been clear for years in the field of international affairs.  I have personally benefitted from the leadership, advice and guidance of so many of Stanford’s own.  Secretary of Defence William Perry and Secretary of State George Schultz have helped lead the way on nuclear disarmament, reflecting a consensus for common sense solutions that transcends party lines.

I have also worked closely through the years with Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Ambassador Susan Rice, Ambassador Michael Armacost and many others, including a good number of United Nations staff serving around the world.  Our wonderful hosts this afternoon — the Walter Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center and the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies — have both greatly advanced global understanding and the work of the United Nations.  I am honoured to be here to thank you deeply for all of that.

But I am also here for another reason.  I try my best to travel this country, engage directly with the American people, raise awareness about the United Nations and thank you for your support.  Every day, the United Nations feeds over 90 million people and assists more than 33 million refugees.  We vaccinate almost 60 per cent of the world’s children.  We keep the peace with 115,000 peacekeepers in 15 operations on four continents.  We deliver more humanitarian aid than anyone and to the toughest places.  We fight poverty and climate change and advance democracy, supporting dozens of elections around the world.  And we push for human rights and education everywhere.

The record shows whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan or beyond, an investment in the United Nations yields an outsized return.  By working with the United Nations, no country needs to tackle big challenges alone.  And no country is alone in footing the bill.  More and more often in our globalized world, good international solutions are in the national interest.

I want to thank you and all of the American people for that vital support.  More specifically, let me say how good it is to be in this great state.  California is a beacon for the world.  You spark the global imagination.  You are an epicentre of entrepreneurship and innovation.  You are on the frontier of new ways to solve problems and see the world.  The United Nations itself was born in the Bay Area with the San Francisco Conference that approved the United Nations Charter.  And in many ways my life as a global citizen also came to life here.

This is the first place I visited outside of Korea.  More than 50 years ago, I came to California as a wide-eyed high school student.  I was part of a Red Cross exchange programme.  I was a simple country boy.  South Korea was a poor country, still devastated by the war less than 10 years before.

Our group travelled around the country.  We even met President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden.  But for me, it all started about 70 miles from here — in Novato, California, to be exact.  That is where I stayed as a guest of the Patterson family for eight unforgettable days.  The Patterson family became my American family and Mrs. Patterson my American mother.

We have stayed in close touch over the last five decades.  Mrs. Patterson is now 95 years old.  And I am pleased to say that she is with us today.  Please join me in welcoming my American mother, Libba Patterson, and my American brothers and sisters, the Patterson family.

My trip here opened my eyes to the world.  I returned to Korea a different person.  First of all, I was a celebrity.  We didn’t have YouTube back then, but in my village, I was the 1950s equivalent of Psy.  But on a deeper level, I came back knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to serve my country and the world.  It was here in California that I first felt I could grab the stars from the sky.  This is where my dream of public service took flight — in this exhilarating, stimulating new world.

Today I want to talk about the world we now face and the future we must shape together.  Throughout the ages, people have said that the world is in the midst of big change.  But the level and degree of global change that we face today is far more profound than at any other period in my adult lifetime. 

I call this period the “Great Transition”.  It is economic, as engines of growth and economic power continue to shift with the rise of the Asia-Pacific region, and as we move increasingly and irreversibly to a multipolar world.  The transition is developmental, as we seek a more sustainable path for people and our planet.  The transition is political, as landmark change in the Arab world and beyond brings new hope to places that have long been deserts of democracy.

I believe we face a unique opportunity.  Because the changes we face are so profound, the decisions we make will have a deeper and more lasting impact than perhaps any other set of decisions in recent decades.  We have no time to lose.

Today I want to talk about three essential ways to navigate our way through this Great Transition.  First by truly advancing sustainable development; second by helping people meet their aspirations for democracy and dignity; and third, by empowering women and young people.

First, the sustainable development challenge.  I have made sustainable development the leading priority of the United Nations.  Let me tell you why.  In the next 20 years, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water.  At the current rate, we will soon need two planet earths.  But we have only one planet.  There can be no plan B because there is no planet B.

Both science and economics tell us that we need to change course — and soon.  From Manhattan and the Midwest to Mumbai, climate change is threatening lives and livelihoods.  I know you understand.  After all, Stanford’s mascot is a tree.  You get it.  And I know Stanford-educated entrepreneurs and investors are helping to build the clean energy, low-carbon economy of tomorrow, right now.  And in the process you are proving that green growth is good for the economy and job creation.

You know we cannot drill or mine our way to growth.  We cannot keep burning our way to prosperity.  With the eighth-largest economy in the world, California has a special role.  Your state has blazed the trail on clean air legislation — and recently put into effect a first-of-its-kind market-based, cap-and-trade law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  I am convinced national and state action can spur progress in the global negotiations, creating a virtuous cycle.  This will help us reach our goal of a legally binding global agreement by 2015.  This is the path to a more sustainable future.

Living in a wealthy, globally connected country, we might often forget that one out of every five people on the planet still do not have access to modern electricity.  That is why I launched my Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  It is a global partnership with Governments, the private sector and civil society, based on three goals:  Universal access to modern energy services; doubling energy efficiency; and doubling the renewable energy share in the overall global energy mix.  These objectives are challenging, but they can be met.  With your help — your entrepreneurial know-how, your innovative technologies, your financing savvy and investments — I am confident we will succeed.

As we work for sustainable development, we need sustainable peace.  That leads me to the second key — ensuring that we deliver on people’s demands for dignity and democracy.

Let me focus on Syria.  You have seen the tragedy play out on your television screens.  Neighbourhoods razed.   Hospitals destroyed.  And this week, a university bombed.

Syria is in a death spiral.  More than 60,000 have tragically lost their lives in bloodshed that will soon enter its third year.  This crisis has several dimensions.  First, humanitarian — 4 million people need immediate assistance; 2 million have abandoned their homes; 600,000 have fled the country.

The United Nations is doing its part — providing food, shelter and other life-saving assistance where we can.  Last month, I visited the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan and the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey.  I met young children — five, six years old — who wanted nothing more than to go home and go to school.  I told them not to lose hope.

But we face two real constraints on our humanitarian work.  The first is financial.  Our humanitarian appeal is less than 50 per cent funded.  That is why I am convening a high-level international pledging conference in Kuwait on 30 January to help raise the $1.5 billion that is needed.  The second challenge is access.  We cannot physically reach all people in need.  We are working with the Syrian authorities and all parties to help more people, and that is yielding some results.  But much more can and must be done.

Beyond the humanitarian, the Syria crisis is obviously political.  Given the deep divisions today, it may be difficult to envision Syrians sitting across the table working out the details of a transition plan that protects citizens and preserves the institutions of a State.  The region is similarly divided between those supporting the Government and others supporting the opposition.  These divisions are also reflected in the Security Council.

Our diplomatic efforts are aimed at finding the common ground to replace the death and the deadlock.  Last week in Geneva, the Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi helped achieve a Russian-United States-United Nations definition of what powers a transitional governing body would hold.  But we are still a long way from getting the Syrians together to make the key decisions that only they can make.

I call on the Security Council and the international community to help the Syrian people build a new and democratic Syria where the rights of all groups and minorities are fully protected.  I know you join me in sending a clear message to all sides:  End the killing.  End the violence.  End the bloodshed in the name of our common humanity.

I am also closely following developments in Mali, which has been the scene of appalling human rights violations and extremist violence.  The international community is responding to the Government of Mali’s call for help in countering the armed and terrorist groups.  I hope these actions will contribute to the overall goal of fully restoring Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity.

Beyond Syria and the Sahel, we must continue to work for peace, justice and human rights throughout the Arab world and beyond.  Hard-won gains must not be reversed, particularly for all those women and young people on the frontlines.

That leads me to the third and final key to advancing our common goals in this world in transition — empowering the world’s most underutilized resource, women and young people.  Far too often, I look across conference tables around the world and see the same thing:  men; only men.  That must change.  The world needs more women in the Cabinet, more women in Parliament, more women in boardrooms.

At the United Nations, we are striving to lead by example.  I have nearly doubled the number of women in the most senior United Nations positions.  Our top officials for humanitarian affairs, human rights, development and disarmament are women.  So, too, is my Chief of Staff as well as are our top doctor, top lawyer, even our top cop, who leads more than 10,000 United Nations police around the world.  Let me add that I am pleased that my own country South Korea now has its own first-ever woman President.

At the same time, empowering young people is crucial.  Half the world is under 25 years of age.  Young women and men everywhere want decent jobs.  They want dignity.  They want a greater say in their own destiny.  We must support them.  And for that, we must step up our efforts.  That is why today I appointed the first-ever United Nations Special Envoy on Youth.  I strongly believe the priorities of youth should be just as prominent in our meeting space as they are in cyberspace.

Expanding the frontiers of opportunity and human rights also sometimes requires us to broaden our own boundaries of understanding.  I speak about the fight for full equality of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community around the world.  Some say that sexual orientation and gender identity is a sensitive subject.  I understand.  I did not grow up in a culture or at a time when we talked about these issues.  But, as Secretary-General, I learned to speak out for one essential reason:  lives and fundamental values are at stake.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear — all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Not some people; all people.  I will continue to stand up and speak out.  As one advocate at the United Nations recently said, “If it is not equality for all, it is not equality at all.”

I have put forward a long to-do list this afternoon.  But I am convinced that this time of Great Transition is also a period of great opportunity.  And I believe with your help and support, the United Nations and the international community can and will step up.

In many ways, I still carry the same energy and enthusiasm and sense of wonder that I did when I first landed on Mrs. Patterson’s doorstep half a century ago.  Everything my life has taught me points to the power of international solidarity to overcome any obstacle.

Growing up, the United Nations was a beacon of hope for me and my country.  That hope first brought me to California, where I learned to reach for the stars while keeping myself grounded; to dream big dreams and to be a global citizen.

I urge you to harness that same spirit and make a difference for your country and our world.

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