Auckland, New Zealand

12 May 2019

Secretary-General’s remarks at press encounter with Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Thank you very much Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. First of all, happy Mother’s Day. This is a visit of both solidarity and gratitude. Solidarity first of all with the victims of Christchurch, with their families, with the community, with the city but also with the people and the government of New Zealand.
Every year since the time that I was High Commissioner for Refugees, I do a solidarity visit during Ramadan, normally to a Muslim country. As Secretary-General, I went to Afghanistan in my first year, to Mali in my second year. This time I decided to do my solidarity visit of Ramadan to the community in Christchurch to pay tribute to their courage, to their resilience, but also to pay tribute to the extraordinary unity and to the message of solidarity that was given by the people and the government of New Zealand. And I’d like to say how much I admire Prime Minister, your leadership – the way you convey very strong messages to your country and to the world, the way you immediately took measures in relation to this aspect of gun control, and now you’re call to action in relation to the need to prevent the negative aspects of social media and the Internet in relation to hate speech is something that is of course very important for us.
I’ve launched two initiatives to mobilize the UN system, one exactly to fight hate speech under the leadership of our Under-Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and another one to be able to better support countries in the protection of holy sites under the leadership of the Alliance of Civilizations. Of course, your appeals and your leadership are extremely important in this context.
But this is also a visit of gratitude – to express my deep gratitude to New Zealand for New Zealand’s leadership in relation to the fight against climate change. We are facing a climate emergency. Climate change is running faster than what we are. The last four years have been the hottest registered. We are seeing record levels both in the rise of temperatures across the globe, in relation to the rising level of the oceans, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
We are facing a paradox. We are feeling clearly by what happens on the ground that things are getting worse, even worse than it was forecasted. We see devastating storms, the most recent one in Mozambique. They are becoming more frequent and with more dramatic humanitarian consequences. We see drought progressing terribly, namely in the African continent, in other parts of the world, and becoming a dramatic factor pushing for the movement of people and for the deterioration of security and the progress of terrorism, and we are seeing everywhere a clear demonstration that we are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris Agreement. The paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading. That is why the leadership of the government of New Zealand is extremely important and that’s why I’m very grateful for that. Not only is New Zealand fully in line with what was promised by New Zealand in Paris, but New Zealand is introducing legislation to achieve a fundamental goal that the scientific community has defined as absolutely crucial, which is to reach the end of the century without more than 1.5 degrees, which means achieving carbon neutrality before 2050. Your leadership Prime Minister is absolutely crucial in this regard and I’m extremely grateful for it.
I’m also grateful for what has been New Zealand’s support to the Pacific Island States. They are really in the frontline of the dramatic impacts of climate change. I’ll be visiting Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and convey a very strong message from the Pacific to the rest of the world: We absolutely must catch up, we absolutely must be able to stop this dramatic trend, to reverse this dramatic trend. We cannot allow for a runaway climate change. We need to protect the lives of all people and we need to protect our planet.
Question: Welcome to New Zealand. Just a follow-up question to what you were saying with the climate change legislation. The Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister James Shaw unveiled legislation this week which would have a split target essentially when it comes to gas. Biogenic methane would be reduced to 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030 and by 2050 all other greenhouse gases would be reduced to net zero. So I was just wondering from your perspective, do you think that that goes far enough? Or just your general reaction to the legislation.
Secretary-General: Those are exactly the objectives that the scientific community as a whole, through the IPCC report, have considered essential if you want to keep the growth of temperature until the end of the century at 1.5 degrees. There is today a consensus in the international community that if you beyond 1.5 degrees the consequences would be catastrophic. I mean, even with 1.5 degrees we will have lots of problems and we are having problems even now, but if we don’t manage to have carbon neutrality in 2050 we will have a dramatic situation in the world.
I see New Zealand in the frontline, I’ve seen the government of Ireland proclaiming a climate emergency, I see many other countries gaining conscience of the need to act but unfortunately, as I said, political will has been fading in other parts of the world and this is the reason why we are convening a Summit for September. We need to make absolutely sure that when countries will renovate in 2020 their national determined contributions that they do it in line with what the scientists tell us is absolutely essential to preserve our planet. I don’t think that there is any other region but the Pacific with the moral authority to tell the world that the world needs to abide by what the scientific community is telling us.
Question: Just how confident are you with being able to convince world leaders to take stronger action to tackle climate change based on using and highlighting the experiences of the people in the Pacific when many people within that region believe the government of Australia, the largest country in the region, is not taking the issue seriously at all? And you speak of political will fading, is that something that you’ve noticed in Australia?
Secretary-General: It’s exactly because some misbehave that the example of those that are doing the right thing is so important. That is why I’m in New Zealand and I’m very proud to be here and to start my visit to the Pacific in a country that is doing the right thing and should be followed by all other countries in the globe.
Question: Just looking ahead to Christchurch Call and the Summit in Paris. Prime Minister obviously it’s a cause that you feel strongly about and Mr. Guterres as you’ve said, you’ve spoken out before about the spread of harmful content online. Just looking at how you expect to get meaningful change from such a Summit when it seems that some major countries and companies aren’t on board?
Secretary-General: I’d like to express my total solidarity with the initiative that the government of New Zealand is taking in this regard. We will publish in June, the recommendations of our High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation in which we gathered a number of scientists, experts, industrialists from all over the world, looking exactly on how to make sure that the Internet, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, and all these other fantastic developments we are witnessing can be a force for good and that we are able to address the risks that really exist today.
If I had to select the two biggest challenges that political leaders face in the world at the present time I would say it’s clearly to reverse climate change and second to make sure that the new technologies, especially those that are related to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, that those new technologies become a force for good and not a dramatic risk for our common future.