New York

31 July 2007

Secretary-General's address to General Assembly thematic debate: "Climate Change as a Global Challenge"

Madam President, Excellencies, Dear Delegates,

Let me thank the President of the General Assembly, Her Excellency Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, for convening this timely and topical debate.

We meet at a time when climate change –long on the international agenda –is finally receiving the very highest attention that it merits. We have all heard a lot about the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They have unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity.

The effects of these changes are already grave, and they are growing. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. The resultant melting threatens the region's people and ecosystems, but it also imperils low-lying islands and coastal cities half a world away. On the other hand, as glaciers retreat, water supplies are being put at risk. And for one-third of the world's population living in dry lands, especially those in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.

We cannot go on this way for long. We cannot continue with business as usual. The time has come for decisive action on a global scale.


I am convinced that this challenge, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately, our global legacy. It is time for new thinking. We all need to shoulder this responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their children. Will succeeding generations have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and left them to suffer the consequences?

My personal priority is to work with Member States to ensure that the UN plays its role to the full. Indeed, I believe this is just the kind of global challenge that the UN is best suited to address. I am gratified by the universal recognition that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action.

Now, we need a comprehensive agreement under the UNFCCC process that tackles climate change on all fronts, including adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization. All countries must do what they can to reach agreement by 2009, and to have it in force by the expiry of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period in 2012.

To build on existing momentum, I am convening a high-level meeting on climate change in New York at the start of the new General Assembly session. This week's thematic debate can help lay the groundwork for the September session, and for the upcoming negotiations under the UN Framework Convention in December. In particular your focus on national strategies and international commitments on the second day of this debate will provide the building blocks for the discussion of the global strategy that will take place at the highest political level on 24 September and at the operational level in Bali and beyond.

For my part, I will spare no effort to galvanize political will and catalyze joint action on this issue. Let me therefore briefly describe some of my other initiatives in this area.

This year I have consulted various world leaders in an effort to build political momentum ahead of the Bali conference and the broader UNFCCC process. To assist me in this endeavor, I have recently appointed three Special Envoys on Climate Change. Mrs. Brundtland, Mr. Han and Mr. Lagos have kindly agreed to place their knowledge, experience and broad network of high-level contacts at my disposal for this undertaking. You will hear directly from Mr. Lagos and Mr. Han tomorrow on the work they are doing.

In addition, I have also reached out to a wide range of local government representatives, including cities and regions around the world, civil society organizations, as well as the private sector. For instance, this month's Global Compact Leaders' Summit focused on climate change, and the annual UN NGO Conference late this year will also focus on the same subject.

Within the UN system, I am determined that all parts contribute to this monumental effort and support action by Member States, especially those that are most vulnerable. A case in point is our increased support for action on adaptation, including the development of national adaptation programmes in developing countries and their integration into national strategies to achieve the MDGs. Similarly, disaster risk reduction needs to be reflected in national development plans, as called for in the Hyogo Framework for Action. And UN agencies are working together to build capacity for developing countries to take full advantage of the sustainable development opportunities offered by the Clean Development Mechanism. Of course, such initiatives also require new and sustained funding sources

Finally, I am determined to minimize the UN System's own carbon footprint, and to make this a climate-neutral organization. To that end, I have launched a “Greening the UN” initiative. I have invited all heads of agencies and other UN bodies to work with me on a comprehensive plan covering our worldwide premises and operations. I will report on this in detail in the near future.

Of course, our Organization ultimately looks to you, our Member States, for direction and guidance on an issue of such consequence. I am delighted that you chose to have this debate, and I look forward to hearing your views as well as those of the invited experts. Together, we can –and must –take decisive measures this year to address the climate change threat head-on.

In that spirit, let me wish you a very informative and productive session.

Thank you.