Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, to the Arctic Circle Assembly, in Reykjavik today:
It is an honour to receive this Climate Sustainability Award. I accept it on behalf of the many people in and beyond the United Nations who have been part of the very active climate diplomacy over the past several years that produced the historic Paris Agreement. I am gratified that we worked together to produce something that can make our world safer and more sustainable, especially for future generations.
It is a pleasure to be back in Iceland. Three years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Hellisheidi power plant, and saw the way Iceland is taking full advantage of its remarkable geothermal resources. I also visited the Langjokull glacier, and saw the impacts of climate change. We see progress and peril in close proximity. I have yet to visit the Blue Lagoon, but will experience that Icelandic wonder tomorrow on my way to the airport!
I am also pleased to be back in the Arctic region, although I know we are a few degrees south of the Circle. In 2009 and again last year, I went to Svalbard and beyond and spent time with the scientists from all over the world who are doing pioneering research about our changing environment. In 2014, I visited Greenland and spoke with those whose traditional ways of life are being forced to change.
So I am very glad to be with you today for this important Assembly. We meet at a momentous time. We have just passed a historic threshold: 74 countries, representing nearly 59 per cent of global emissions, have now ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. On 4 November, this landmark pact will enter into force — a major step forward for humankind in addressing the defining challenge of our time.
Few expected such swift action. I thank all of you for your contributions to this historic step. Political leaders, scientists, citizens in the street — all played a role in grasping the gravity of the threat and mobilizing to set the world on a safer, more sensible path.
I am also heartened by the agreement two days ago by the members of the International Civil Aviation Organization on a new global market-based measure to curb carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation. This is an important first step by Governments, industry and civil society and builds on the strong momentum emanating from Paris for multilateral action to reduce the risks of climate change.
These breakthroughs come not a moment too soon. As we are all keenly aware, the Arctic is melting before our eyes. There is a steep decline in sea ice. On one single day last month, the Arctic ice cap melted at three times its normal rate, losing ice the size of England.
Permafrost is thawing, releasing carbon and methane into the atmosphere. The Alaskan and Canadian glaciers are retreating. Changing seasons, irregular weather — all this and more is happening and deepening.
The Arctic supports key pillars of the climate system regionally and globally. The fate of the Arctic is tied to the fate of Miami, Mumbai, Shanghai and coastal cities across the world, and so much else of course. When the Arctic suffers, the world feels the pain. And when the planet is under assault, the Arctic is likewise a casualty.
The Arctic is ground zero for climate change. Scientists tell us it is warming more quickly than the rest of planet. A warming of the planet by 2°C — the upper limit of what the Paris Agreement calls for — could mean a change of four and even five degrees in the Arctic. Scientists’ most pessimistic estimates are being overtaken by events on the ground.
Now we must turn words into deeds, and implement the Agreement. We need financial resources to help developing countries in reducing their emissions and adapting to inevitable climate impacts. We need Governments to reach consensus next week in Kigali on a critically important amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will phase down hydrofluorocarbons. This could help prevent up to half a degree of warming by the end of the century.
The world must also reduce other short-lived climate pollutants, including black carbon, which contributes to the rapid warming of snow and ice. And we need more investments in the opportunity side of the equation — in more renewable energy sources, and in innovative technologies. This is what can accelerate the coming transition.
Scientific research will continue to be crucially important. I am encouraged to know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue a special report on the oceans and cryosphere.
What happens in the Arctic affects us all. But let us remember those on the front lines: the many indigenous peoples who have lived here for centuries. They contribute to the Arctic’s diversity and sustainable resource management. Yet as with developing countries, those who have contributed least to climate change are being hit first and hardest by serious consequences for their safety, health and human rights.
Indigenous peoples are also affected by national strategies for climate change adaption and mitigation, especially renewable energy initiatives such as windmill farms and hydropower projects, which often take place on indigenous peoples’ territories. This has created tensions and brought displacement and dispossession. The United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples is our inspiration for how to recognize and respect indigenous peoples through our actions and initiatives.
Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge systems of living in harmony with nature and their contributions are essential to help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and combat climate change. I urge you to ensure that indigenous peoples, their rights and their sociocultural contributions remain central as we address these shared challenges.
This is critical moment for the Arctic region. You are wrestling with the implications of increased tourism, expanded shipping, management of your fisheries, and competition for oil and gas resources. The well-being of Arctic societies is at stake.
As we address competing claims and reconcile the varying visions for the region, let us be guided by the actions required by the Paris Agreement, by the 17 Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and by the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Partnership for the common good, and protection of our common home.
Thank you for your engagement and support.