Activities of Secretary-General in Austria, 27-28 May

SG/T/3260
10 June 2019

Activities of Secretary-General in Austria, 27-28 May

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Vienna on Monday, 27 May, to take part in the fortieth anniversary celebrations of the Vienna International Centre, which is home to several United Nations agencies.

Not long after arrival, the Secretary-General joined renowned cellist and United Nations Messenger of Peace, Yo Yo Ma, at an event to mark the days of action as part of Mr. Ma’s global tour to explore how culture is taking action in society and to explore how culture can play a role in addressing pressing societal problems.  The event was held in the “Brunnenpassage”, a well-known venue run by the non-governmental organization Caritas, which aims at giving access to art to all population groups, as well as to promote their active participation.

The Secretary-General told Mr. Ma and those attending the musical presentation that he considered music a universal language of peace.  At the same time, he said, music represents diversity, and just like in our societies, it is an enormous richness and not a threat.  (See Press Release SG/SM/19601.)

The Secretary-General then had a meeting with Austria President Alexander Van der Bellen at the Hofburg Palace. In remarks to the media afterwards, the Secretary-General thanked Austria for its support to the United Nations presence in Vienna.  He also underscored the importance of being in Vienna to attend the R20 summit on climate change.

He told journalists that he had just come back from the Pacific where he saw first-hand the existential threat that some Pacific countries are facing.  Mr. Guterres said he understood that in many parts of the world people tend not to be sensitive to the drama of the populations in the Pacific.  But the point, he said, is that to save an island State like Tuvalu is to rescue the planet.

He also reiterated his call to reduce taxation on income and salaries, and tax carbon instead.  “I can’t understand how taxpayers’ money is being used to subsidize fossil fuels, to boost hurricanes, to increase drought, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals and to multiply disasters all over the world — with taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Guterres said.

Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General took part in the official fortieth anniversary celebrations of the Vienna International Centre.

In comments to the gathered staff, the Secretary-General once again thanked the host nation for the support to the United Nations organization in Vienna.  The Vienna-based parts of our United Nations family, Mr. Guterres said, promote cooperation in outer space, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and advanced technologies to support development and mitigate climate change.  (See Press Release SG/SM/19602.)

Also in attendance were Karin Kneissl, Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, and Michael Ludwig, Mayor and Governor of Vienna.

While at the Vienna International Centre, the Secretary-General also met with Greta Thunburg, the young Swedish climate activist.  He spent some time listening to Ms. Thunburg about her work, and also hosted her for a live conversation on Instagram.

The day ended with an official event at Vienna City Hall followed by a dinner hosted by Mr. Van der Bellen in honour of the participants of the R20 Austrian World Summit 2019.

On Tuesday, 28 May, the Secretary-General joined former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, President of the R20 group, at the formal opening of the R20 Austrian World Summit 2019.

The R20 brings together leaders at the subnational level, the private sector and civil society.  Their work aims to support provinces, regions and local governments around the world to develop and finance low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure projects in the field of renewable energy, energy-efficient lighting and waste optimization.

In remarks at the Summit, the Secretary-General underscored the importance of the work done below the national level.  “The Climate action at the subnational level is key to addressing the climate crisis, not only because subnational governments are the closest to the people, but also because regions and cities are the main engines of the world economy,” he said.

Despite the daily headlines regarding the very real negative impact of climate change, from rising seawater to devastating storms, the efforts to combat climate change and mitigate its impact will have positive impact on our societies, the Secretary-General said.  “We need a post-carbon economy, a climate-smart development pathway that can provide inclusive prosperity for all on a healthy planet,” he told the participants.  This is doable, he added, provided with the political will.  (See Press Release SG/SM/19603.)

On the sidelines of conference, the Secretary-General met with Gunther Thallinger, CIO for global investment management and Chairman of the ESG Board Allianz; Alexander Dobrindt, Chairman of the CSU Parliamentary Group in Germany’s Bundestag; and Maria Joao Rodrigues, Member of the European Parliament.

The Secretary-General then departed to Aachen, Germany, to take part in the ceremonies surrounding the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize.

For information media. Not an official record.