Washington, D.C.

16 July 2007

Remarks at Event: "Climate change: The Defining Challenge"

Ban Ki-moon

The need of this hour is to change the climate on climate change...The science is clear, and the time to act was yesterday.

Thank you, Ambassador Lee, for your kind words. It is an honour and a pleasure to be among so many good friends and well-wishers.

As you all know, things can get rather hot for the UN in this city. That can sometimes prompt a decidedly cool reception for a visiting Secretary-General. So I guess it’s entirely appropriate that I should come to Washington to talk about global warming and climate change!

Of course, there is nothing too hot or too cool tonight – your reception is just the right temperature: warm and welcoming. I am especially grateful to Senator Wirth and Ambassador Lee for hosting this dinner, and providing me with an opportunity to talk informally with real experts and key players.

Dear friends,

As I am hearing from you, there can be no doubt that our climate is changing. The need of this hour is to change the climate on climate change.

For far too long, far too many among us have sidestepped this existential issue. Yet the science is clear, and the time to act was yesterday. The cost of not acting will exceed the costs of acting early, probably by several orders of magnitude.

As participants in the global carbon-based economy, all of us are part of this grave and growing problem. And we all must commit to the search for solutions. New technologies, energy conservation, carbon-trading, forestry projects, renewable fuels, and private markets are all parts of an overall response. But the enormity of the issue cannot be addressed by mitigation alone. It requires adaptation and a fundamental rethink of the way we live, and how we travel and transact business.

For me, this raises the important question of equity. Global warming affects us all, yet it affects us differently. Wealthy nations possess the resources and the know-how to adapt. Most developing ones do not. Indeed, the terrible irony for such nations remains that while they have contributed the least to the process of global warming, they are still the ones most at risk from its consequences.

So we must act, but not at the expense of the world’s poor. Their aspirations for a greater stake in global prosperity are legitimate, and need to be honoured. Indeed, the choice between the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and the ecological future of our planet is a false one, if we let a sense of human dimension govern our collective response.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we absolve the global South of any responsibility to act. Quite the contrary, if the industrialized countries take the lead, the major industrializing nations must necessarily follow. This is not about some nations’ historical responsibility, it is about all of our historical responsibility to future generations.

But I am seeking visionary and visible leadership from the North. Developed countries can do much more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage energy efficiency. They can also support clean development in fast-growing economies such as Brazil, China and India, as well as adaptation measures in countries that face the greatest hardships from climate change.

I have already welcomed the G-8’s recent commitment to take strong and early action to combat climate change, and their stated intention to conclude the negotiations on a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement by 2009. I was also gratified by their recognition of the UN’s central role in these negotiations.

Now comes the hard part: transforming this laudable sentiment into a concrete negotiating process. I believe that the next UN Climate Change Conference in Bali this December is crucial in this respect. To facilitate the preparatory process leading to the Bali meeting, I recently appointed three Special Envoys to consult with Member States. On the 24th of September, I will host a special high-level meeting in New York on climate change, just ahead of the opening of the UN’s annual debate of Heads of State and Government.

These are all steps in the right direction. But they will rise or fall based on the strength of US engagement and leadership. America is the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gasses. It is also the planet’s leading innovator. If it steps up to the plate, others will surely follow.

This will be my message to President Bush tomorrow. His climate initiative, operating within the UN’s global framework, is already a welcome step forward. I look forward to discussing with him ways to turn this framework into concrete progress as soon as possible.
But before tomorrow’s sessions, I have this occasion to pick the brains of some of the leading minds on this issue, all over a delightful meal! So thank you all for being here, and for sharing your thoughts on the challenges ahead, and what you believe the United States can and should do.

Thank you, and bon appetit!