Tokyo, Japan

7 October 2008

Secretary-General's message on receiving the "Cool Biz" Award [delivered by Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, Rector, United Nations University]

It is an honour to receive the “Cool Biz” award. Let me express my gratitude to the Government of Japan and the Cool Biz Promotion Council for their leadership in showing how small steps can add up to a big impact in the fight against climate change.

Japan's Cool Biz initiative has been an inspiration for the United Nations not just symbolically but literally. Just over a year ago, I recall staff raving about it as they returned from various missions to Japan. They relished telling us that staff and high-level officials alike were being encouraged to shed their jackets and ties. And they admired the way the Japanese Government was challenging us to do something about our over-heated and over-cooled buildings.

Since the United Nations must lead by example, we took the challenge seriously. This past 1 August, at our headquarters in New York, we began the “Cool UN” initiative, in which we turned up the thermostats five degrees Fahrenheit. During the weekends, the air conditioning systems were switched off completely. To cope with the anticipated warmth, we encouraged staff and delegations to wear lighter clothing, including national dress for those coming from warmer climates.

This practical step to reduce emissions and increase staff awareness of climate change was the ultimate win-win-win. We achieved a reduction in emissions equivalent to 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. We saved money. And thanks to the lighter side of “Cool UN”, the relaxed dress code, we generated quite a bit of conversation –about climate change and about the customs and cultures underpinning our staff members' various forms of national dress. In short, the initiative was an all-round winner, and we plan to conduct a similar exercise in winter, this time in reverse, by turning down the thermostats by five degrees Fahrenheit.

Cool UN is just part of the Organization's efforts to address this global threat. On a larger scale, with last May's groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of the UN Headquarters complex, we have started the march towards a greener and more efficient United Nations. At the conclusion of this historic effort, we intend to have facilities that are safer, more modern and a model of environmental stewardship. The chief executives of all United Nations programmes, funds and specialized agencies are following suit, and moving towards climate neutrality in their operations around the world.

Climate negotiators will gather in December in Poznan, Poland, for a round of crucially important talks about our common future. Our common priority must be a deal on post-2012 arrangements by the December 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen. When it comes to reaching an agreement on climate change, delay is not like a delay in reaching other types of agreements. We can't just pick up a couple of years from now and resume as if nothing has happened. Science tells us that such an approach courts disaster. Economics tells us that the costs would only rise. It is time to move beyond national positions and uphold our collective responsibility to generations beyond our own.

The UN system and I personally will spare no effort in supporting Member States in moving towards a low-carbon economy and a healthy and sustainable environment. With “Cool Biz” and "Cool UN", we are further along that path. Thank you again for this recognition. I congratulate all the other awardees, and offer my best wishes for a successful ceremony.