27 June 2014

Remarks at the first UN Environment Assembly

Ban Ki-moon

I am delighted that I could join you at this historic meeting.

Mr President Kenyatta, I thank you for your support from the beginning of this process. Your leadership made a lot of difference to help make our environment more sustainable.

I thank the people and Governement of Kenya for their support to the work of the United Nations in Kenya. We are proud to work with you.

In the past few days, I have travelled the length and breadth of Africa.

It has been a long journey, but nothing compared with yours.

Your journey dates back more than four decades to when the General Assembly established the United Nations Environment Programme in the wake of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Before Stockholm, environmental concerns were largely held to be secondary to economic development.

Since then, we have developed a better understanding of the links between environment and development, thanks in large part to the work of UNEP and its partners within and outside the UN system.

Today, there is common acceptance among governments and peoples that a healthy environment is necessary for eradicating poverty and supporting equitable economic growth and social progress.

We are now poised for the crucial next phase of human development – a universal post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

That agenda needs a strong voice for the environment – and now it has it, thanks to the wisdom of UN Member States meeting in 2012 at the Rio +20 UN Summit meeting on Sustainable Development.

For the first time, all 193 members of the United Nations, plus major stakeholders, are represented in a single body with the shared goal of articulating the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

At UNEA this week, you have deliberated on many important topics -- including the sustainable development goals, consumption and production patterns, the environmental rule of law and the illegal trade in timber and wildlife.

The message is clear: protecting humanity’s life support system is integral to sustainable development.

And it is a duty for all.

With its augmented role as a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly, UNEA has the mandate and capacity to position the environment alongside peace and security, poverty reduction, global health, trade and sustainable economic growth as an issue of crucial importance to every government.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this UNEA taken forward at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in just under two weeks’ time
This meeting marks a coming of age for UNEP and environmental governance.

I would like to pay special tribute to Mr. Achim Steiner for his leadership of this important UN organization.

As of this year, UNEP and its partners are better placed than ever to provide the science, the innovation and the tools that Governments and other key actors need to incorporate environmental considerations into the mainstream of all policy-making.

The timing could not be better.

Next year marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

It is when we will a launch post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

And it is when Member States have pledged to sign a meaningful new global legal climate agreement.

The decisions that will be made over the coming months will have profound implications for this generation and many to come.

UNEP and the UNEA have a central role to play – beginning now.

The air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that grows our food are part of a delicate global ecosystem that is increasingly under pressure from human activities.

As our population grows, we have to recognize that our consumption of the planet’s resources is unsustainable.

We see the heavy hand of humankind everywhere – from tropical deforestation to depleted ocean fisheries … from growing freshwater shortages to increasingly polluted skies and seas, land and water in many parts of the world … from the rapid decline of biodiversity to the growing menace of climate change.

On September 23rd, I am convening a Climate Summit meeting to mobilize political will and catalize ambitious action on climate change.

I urge you all to ensure that your Heads of State and Government and your leaders from business and civil society attend.

We need all sectors and all nations to work together to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

Tomorrow I will attend a lunch on climate smart development, which will highlight the potential of public-private partnerships for high impact solutions that benefit people and planet.

We need to act decisively to change humanity’s relationship with our planet.

This forum has the power – and the responsibility – to promote a global transformation of attitude and practice.

You job will not be easy.

There are many vested interests and entrenched attitudes that will stand in your way.

You will have to advocate hard with your counterparts in finance, energy, agriculture and trade.

But whenever you need inspiration, just look at the advances of the past four decades.

The arguments for environmental sustainability are compelling – and they are winning, in the minds of people, in boardrooms and in the corridors of power.

I appreaciate your work for all these years but this is just a beginning.

Change is in the air.

Solutions exist.

The race is on.

It’s time to lead.

I congratulate the inaugural UNEA for its important deliberations and thank all its participants for their commitment to a sustainable future and a life of dignity for all.

If we are united, if we work together, we can make this world a better place and I count on your leadesrhip, and I count on your support.

Thank you