5 March 2015

At International Student Event, Secretary-General Assigns ‘Lifelong’ Homework: Be Passionate Global Citizens, Ensuring a Better World for All

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the thirty-ninth annual United Nations International School (UNIS) International Student Conference: “Sustainability: Balancing People, Planet and Profit”, in New York today:

Welcome to the United Nations!  It is a great pleasure to welcome all of you to the United Nations.  In fact, this morning looking out the window at my garden I was very concerned about the weather, whether all of you could come in this very cold, snowy day.  I knew that I was wrong, that you were all committed.  I know how early you got up this morning and tried to be here.  Thank you for coming and braving this very bad weather.

Normally in this hall when I meet with ambassadors, they are normally quiet, [observing] protocol and they are not lively as you are this morning.  I feel as if I am living in a real, lively world, with your presence today.  Thank you for coming to the United Nations.  You’ve really made us warm and very exciting, lively.

The UN International School is our good friend just a mile down the road.  But I know that many of you have come from thousands of miles away — from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America.  Thank you all for being here.  This is the power and I can see a small United Nations in this UNIS school.  You are coming from all different countries.  Some of those who are here from Chile are just coming from summer break.  Others are in the middle of your school year.  Either way I am going to give you some homework today.  But I hope my homework will be a motivating one — because they involve standing up for your rights and our world, our common world.  I have seen some video presentations about our world, how many people are living and what kind of problems we have.

I know that this is the thirty-ninth year that UNIS has brought high schools together for this conference.  This is the seventieth year since the United Nations was founded.  I was born just one year before the UN was born but as of now I am exactly the same — 70 years old — like the United Nations.

When this Organization was born in 1945, people were still recovering from the tragedy of the Second World War.  A group of visionary leaders met in San Francisco to create the United Nations so that there would never be another global conflict.  The UN has saved many lives since then.

You might have heard some criticism about the United Nations.  What the United Nations has been doing during the last 70 years?  Is the United Nations still relevant?  Is the United Nations effective?  Efficient?  But I can tell you with my strong conviction, that if there was not a United Nations, as we have now, the world might have been much, much worse and deadlier and with much more tragedies.

It has been the United Nations that has been keeping this world more peaceful and more harmonious.  I know that there are many crises happening at this time but it is the United Nations — we really are doing our best to keep this world peaceful and saving human lives.

As I said, we are at another defining moment.  We are about to conclude the biggest anti-poverty campaign in history.  In September, in this place, world leaders will come and discuss and adopt their visions and commitments to make this world free of poverty, free of violence and [inaudible].  The 15-year Millennium Development Goals will come to a close in about 300 days.  The end of this year is a deadline.

We are in the middle of many crises around the world.  You have all seen the disturbing headlines about wars, killings, hunger and disease.  Now the United Nations faces fundamental choices about how to build a better world.  To succeed, we need you.  We need young people like yourselves.  We reached out to the world through our My World Survey.  This was a part of our ongoing efforts to have inclusive dialogue.  It’s not only ambassadors, ministers and presidents with whom we are talking.  We’re talking with the business communities, with civil societies and we reached out to billions of people.  At least we have reached out to 7 million people through our My World Survey.

Maybe some of you might have given us an answer.  Can you just raise [your hand] if anyone has been contacted by this My World Survey?  So I saw some dozens of hands raised.  Thank you for your views.  I think it is necessary that you raise your voices when it comes to the future of your world.  People are speaking out louder than before.  And I want particularly youth to raise your voices.

I hope some of you marched in the streets last year in September.  I was one of 400,000 people coming from all around the world, in September last year, in Manhattan.  They were asking world leaders to make this world more environmentally sustainable and have an agreement on climate change.  They were shouting, they were demanding action!

Let me hear you shout “action” if you were there.  Action!  Louder, action!  Thank you for your engagement.  This is the year for global action.  I’m asking ambassadors here, but I think your voices sound much louder.  Governments are in charge of negotiating a new vision for development.  But this process has also been open to civil society groups, businesses and other partners. 

Now we are in the home stretch.  To get to the finish line, we are organizing a series of critical global conferences in the coming months.  It starts next week in Sendai, Japan, where we will focus on natural disasters.  How we can reduce all these disasters.  It continues [in] Addis Ababa in July, in Ethiopia, where we are trying to agree on the funding, technology and other means of implementation of our sustainable development goals, which will be adopted in September.

Now here in New York, in September, as I said, Member States will adopt the new agenda, including the set of sustainable development goals.  We have 17 goals initially agreed, which will be again deliberated by the Member States.  Then finally in December, in Paris, countries must adopt a meaningful and universal agreement on climate change.

As we start these potentially momentous steps, I welcome your focus on balancing people, planet and profit.  I have two messages for you today, two.  First, sustainability is the key to our future well-being.  There can be no lasting progress for people if we destroy our resources and ecosystems.  True profits can never come at the expense of our planet or the poor people.  Sustainability means meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.  For the first time, the new set of development goals will be universal ones.  It’s not only for the developing world.  It comprises, covers all spectrums of our lives, developing and developed, social, economic and environmental dimensions, even in the richest countries, there are pockets of poverty and dangerous inequalities.

These new sets of sustainable development objectives will also be integrated.  As I said, Member States have identified the 17 goals.  I have also proposed six essential elements to help frame them:  people, planet, prosperity, partnership and justice and dignity.  We are working for dignity for all people around the world.  One main lesson we have drawn from the Millennium Development Goals is how the goals can reinforce each other.

Empowerment of women and girls provides the perfect example.  Achieving gender equality offers the surest path to success for the new agenda.  I am proud to have appointed more senior women to senior positions in the United Nations in the history of the United Nations — and there has been progress around the world.  We have at this time about 20 presidents and prime minister women, and about one fourth of parliamentarians are women.  But we need to do much more, we need to do much more to meet the target of 50/50.

Now here is the first part of your homework:  be in the vanguard of sustainable development.  Use your power.  Buy green products.  Be conscious of the energy you burn and the waste you generate.  Support business leaders who are working with the United Nations Global Compact to redefine “profit” so that financial success goes hand in hand with environmental stewardship, social responsibility and good governance.

You will soon be meeting Amina Mohamed, my Special Adviser on Millennium Development Goals, and Georg Kell, Director of Global Compact.  Sound the alarm about the path we are on.  Vote for leaders who understand the direction we must go.  Ours is the first generation that can end poverty — and the last generation who can act to avert the worst impacts of climate change.  Help show that the transition to sustainable development is not just necessary — it is the great opportunity of our times.

Let me now turn to my second message.  At a time when extremists and terrorists are building barriers to divide people, the world needs you to build bridges.  This is our duty, as a matter of basic human rights.  It is also the only way to advance as one human family.  None of our development work will take hold if it keeps being destroyed by armed conflict.  None of our societies will show the solidarity we need to address global challenges if they are torn apart by intolerance and hatred.

Young people have been caught up in the horrific acts of violent extremists.  We have seen many hundreds of girls kidnapped and forced into sex slavery; boys and girls forced to join terrorist groups and criminal gangs; young people targeted for recruitment by those seeking to take advantage of feelings of marginalization and alienation.  

Let me stress the need to avoid spreading a negative narrative about the world’s young people.  When I look at youth, I see a renewable resource, like the sun, unlimited power, unlimited energy.  A young person without a job or without a sense of place in his or her society deserves support, not suspicion.  That is why I tell Governments to focus on improving education and increasing economic opportunities.  Honest government — one of the top mandates of the My World Survey — is urgently needed to address some of the grievances that give rise to violence.

I have appointed the UN’s first-ever Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi.  I think some of you must have met him.  He has been working very energetically across the world to press for greater efforts to implement the World Programme for Youth, which marks its twentieth anniversary this year.  This week, he has been in the Middle East, talking with young Palestinians and Israelis.

Dialogue is essential.  The President of the [United Nations] General Assembly and I, along with the [UN] Alliance of Civilizations, are planning a special event in April with world faith leaders to promote mutual understanding, reconciliation and levelling up this tolerance.  Today’s young people are more globally connected than previous generations.  You can lead in helping the human family overcome intolerance and celebrate diversity.

You are young, energetic and dynamic.  You have a lot of dreams, big dreams.  Develop your dreams.  There is no limit in your power to dream.  That is your legitimate right.  Normally, young people have passion, have big dreams, but at this time I would like to emphasize for you to have compassion together.  Normally you have all the time, passion, dynamic energy, but you don’t look at your neighbours, your friends.  When you live, particularly in the United States, it may be very difficult to look and to know how your friends are living.  Therefore, I am asking you to have a compassionate vision, while you have already very strong and dynamic passion.  Therefore, what I’m asking you is that, as a young person, passion and compassion should go hand in hand.  That is the same with world leaders.

I believe that teachers should give a correct vision to growing, young generations, so that they will go through a correct path towards the same direction.  I don’t expect you will all go at the same speed, in the same direction, but at least what is important is that we go towards one direction.  Whether you go slower or faster, or you go left or right.  That is what we are saying — inclusive society, inclusive dialogue and compassion leadership.  We have to make sure that nobody is left behind in society.  That is the vision of our sustainable development goals, which we will soon adopt and declare in September.

Thank you again for your commitment to global citizenship.  We need to be a global citizen.  You may be coming from many different countries.  These passports which you are carrying are only for administrative convenience.  We are living in a small, planet world.  It is connected very tightly.  From one corner to another, the end of the world, it takes just less than one second to communicate and we have transformative technologies helping us to unite, to show solidarity.

In a sense, that is your lifelong homework — and I am giving you a homework assignment, a lifelong homework assignment.  Be a global citizen with a strong vision, passion and also compassionate leadership.  That is what is required to be a global citizen.  Only when we are all global citizens we make sure that we are living in a better world where nobody is left behind.

Let’s work together and everyone can make a difference in leading the world towards a future we want.  I look forward to your contributions during your meeting today.  Let us make 2015 a time for global action.  Let us shout action, action!  Louder, action!  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.