Cambridge, Massachusetts

02 December 2014

Secretary-General's address at the Harvard Foundation (as prepared for delivery)

Thank you for your warm welcome.

I am delighted to be here at historic Memorial church.

When Professor Counter invited me, he told me I would be the most famous Korean ever to speak at this church. I accepted right away. Then he added, “since last year”.

I hope you enjoyed Psy’s appearance. I won’t be showing you any Gangnam style today. But perhaps you will enjoy my “Moon walk”!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is good to be back in Cambridge. Some of you may know that I spent a year at the Kennedy School in the 1980s, studying public administration. I also had a fellowship at the Center for International Affairs. I was taking a break from my country’s diplomatic service. By that time, I had already been posted to New Delhi and New York. But Harvard was just as exotic in its own way!

I have fond memories of my time here, and of the people I met, many of whom are still good friends. I have been back many times since. To return today as your honoree is a special pleasure.

I know that in giving me the Humanitarian of the Year Award, the Harvard Foundation is also paying tribute to the work of the United Nations -- and in particular the thousands of relief workers, development personnel, peacekeepers, human rights defenders, Ebola health responders and others who bring the Organization’s ideals to life. On behalf of the brave and dedicated UN staffers delivering for people across the world, I thank you for this recognition.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I still remember my student days well enough to know that December means final exams. Let me be the first to wish you good luck!

You are not the only ones being tested at this time. People ask me quite often these days: “Why is the world facing so many crises at once? What is going wrong?”

As we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations next year, the world can take heart from the progress since two world wars led to the Organization’s founding.

At the same time, billions of people still live in conditions of deprivation. Violence against women blights all societies, as does discrimination against minorities. Human trafficking is a growing concern. Popular discontent is profound. The world said “never again” after the Holocaust, and after genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica, only to see atrocious crimes continue.

The world today faces threats to peaceful coexistence – and to our physical existence on our one and only planet.

I would like to talk to you today about how I have been working with UN Member States and our partners to steer the world in a more stable and sustainable direction.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, let me start with our efforts to end poverty and make peace with the environment.

For almost 15 years, the world has pursued the Millennium Development Goals -- an eight-point plan to reduce extreme poverty and hunger; get children, especially girls, in school; ensure access to water and sanitation; improve the health of mothers and children, fight disease and protect the environment, all by the end of 2015.

The gains have been remarkable. But there is a long way to go.

Member States are now discussing the agenda that will take us to the year 2030. A new set of sustainable development goals is taking shape. We are determined to finish the job of the MDGs. But we also want to address emerging issues such as inequality. And we want the new goals to include critical factors that were not part of the MDG framework, such as building peaceful societies with responsive, accountable institutions.

Over the past two years, we have engaged in a global discussion on the future we want. Five million people have given us their views through the My World survey. If you have not chimed in, there is still time. Tell us what you think -- and let us know how you plan to help us to fulfill the imperative of leaving no one behind, in rich and poor countries alike.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are the first generation that can end poverty. We are also the last generation that can slow global warming before it is too late.

The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we have the means to limit climate change if we act immediately to reduce emissions.

Economists have joined scientists in making the case for climate action. They recognize the potential to drive innovation and create new markets.

It is time to listen to reason and lift our eyes to the benefits of cleaner and more resilient economies.

I have travelled to the frontlines of climate impacts -- from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, from the melting Andes and to island nations watching the tides grow ever higher.

When I took office, I saw time running out and the world falling short. Today, the momentum for transformation is building. The two biggest emitters of harmful greenhouse gases -- the United States and China -- have just announced major reduction commitments. So has the European Union. The world now looks to others to follow suit. Developed countries must lead, but all countries must act.

We need all countries to come together to secure a new climate agreement next year in Paris.

We need individuals to do their part through the choices they make, from voting booths to grocery stores.

The business and finance communities have key roles to play. A growing number of corporations are speaking up in favour of carbon pricing.

I have been urging pension funds, insurance companies and others to start decarbonizing their portfolios, and shifting towards greener investments. I welcome Harvard’s decision to subscribe to the Principles for Responsible Investment, and to support the Carbon Disclosure Project.

I encourage Harvard to be an even bigger part of the transition to a safer, healthier, low-carbon future. The path to prosperity is clear, and we should all do what we can to put the world on more sustainable footing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The threat of climate change is on the international radar. A second danger has receded from view but remains poised to do great harm: nuclear weapons.

In discussing this question, I want to take my cue from the humanitarian theme of this event.

Nuclear weapons cannot be used without jeopardizing civilians. Even a limited or regional nuclear war can alter our climate and produce famine conditions.

This humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is attracting growing attention.

People are becoming more familiar with the environmental effects of decades of nuclear tests. They are learning how close the world has come in the past to nuclear conflicts, and how “good luck” was the factor that made the difference between peace and cataclysm.

People are also asking why the nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernize arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist.

Important work has been done to keep fissile materials from reaching terrorists or other hostile actors. But ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons. That is why disarmament has been an official goal of the United Nations since 1946.

Next week Governments and civil society will gather in Vienna to challenge the belief that nuclear weapons should be valued as a rational basis for defense and national prestige.

Let us also take our cue from Harvard’s own Professor John Holdren, now serving as President Obama’s science adviser. Nineteen years ago, in delivering the Nobel Peace Prize speech on behalf of the Pugwash conference, he said:

“Either we will achieve an environmentally sustainable prosperity for all, in a world where weapons of mass destruction have disappeared or become irrelevant, or we will all suffer from the chaos, conflict and destruction resulting from the failure to achieve this.”

Those words are just as relevant today. The world remains over-armed, and peace is under-funded. I encourage Harvard to use your research skills to expose the costs and risks of nuclear deterrence. Use your reputation to become a new academic ground zero for nuclear disarmament.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been talking about threats to our existence. Let me turn now to my third point -- the risks to peaceful coexistence.

Professor Counter, let me congratulate you for your long-standing efforts to promote harmony among the many communities at Harvard.

People today are more connected than ever before. At its best, this process of interaction leads to interdependence and a recognition of our common humanity.

At the same time, we are seeing so many manifestations of hatred. Sectarian cruelty in Syria and Iraq has reached new heights. In South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Nigeria, communities have faced violence based on religious and ethnic identities.

In Jerusalem, holy sites and houses of worship have been the target of rivalries, provocation and violence. Migrants and minorities across the world face racism and other forms of hostility -- including by political figures using identity for electoral gain.

During my time in office, I have visited the camps at Auschwitz, the cemetery at Srebrenica, the memorial in Kigali, the torture centre in Phnom Penh. Today, in our work to prevent genocide and other grave crimes, the United Nations must act with all its strength in real time, and not be reduced to lamenting much later what it could not or would not do.

We know that violations of human rights are our clearest early warning signs of instability and violence. That understanding is at the heart of the Human Rights Up Front initiative that I launched last year.

The initiative builds on advances in mainstreaming human rights into the work of the United Nations. It calls on the United Nations speak up far earlier, and if necessary far more pointedly, even if that is not what Governments want to hear. I have told my representatives around the world not to wait for instructions from headquarters when they see people at risk of atrocity crimes, but to act. .

In South Sudan, the Human Rights Up Front approach encouraged the United Nations to open the gates of its peacekeeping facilities to protect civilians caught up in conflict. This action alone saved tens of thousands of lives.

There are still huge gaps between people in peril and action to protect them. Our hope is that Human Rights Up Front will lead to earlier, more determined steps to keep situations from escalating.

When prevention falls short, and when conflicts rage, humanitarian action is vital. In the spirit of this award ceremony, I would like to offer a special word of praise for the UN’s top humanitarian -- my colleague Valerie Amos, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Her four years in office have coincided with an especially large caseload of crises. There are more refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers today than at any time since the Second World War. Never before has the United Nations been asked to reach so many people with emergency food assistance and other life-saving supplies. As winter settles in over Iraq, Syria and the region, dire conditions for millions of people will only grow worse. Some donors have stepped up, but we need far more to see the world through this period of profound need.

Valerie Amos has been a tireless advocate for the victims of conflict and disaster. She has been outspoken in pressing Member States not to use humanitarian action as a substitute for resolving a crisis. She, too, shares in the prize you have awarded me today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now highlight one further test of global solidarity.

Earlier this year, I visited Sierra Leone to witness the closing of the last United Nations peace operation in the country and to celebrate the country’s development gains. Now, that hard-won progress is imperiled by the outbreak of Ebola.
Liberia had also put decades of conflict behind it and, along with Guinea, was making notable economic gains.

All three countries are now struggling to contain a complex crisis.

More than 3,300 children have been orphaned. Businesses have closed. Ten thousand schools sit empty. As crops go un-harvested, food prices and hunger are rising.
Many countries, large and small, have responded with life-saving support. I am especially moved by the contributions from countries that themselves face major challenges, such as Timor-Leste and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Many health responders are braving great personal risks to deliver treatment.

Many countries and communities are acting to change their behaviours and protect themselves.

And the United Nations has deployed its first-ever system-wide emergency health mission, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER.

Where elements of our strategy are in place – from treatment facilities to safe burials – we are beginning to see promising improvements.

But the outbreak is evolving unevenly, with an increase in cases in western Sierra Leone and the emergence of a new chain of transmission in Mali. And we are still short of resources.
Over the years, Harvard’s scientists have helped the world to understand the virus.

I urge you to continue your pioneering research efforts to understand this virus -- and others for which we have neither vaccines nor cures.
We will only reach the finish line of zero transmission through the collective action of the international community.
President Faust,
Distinguished faculty,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We cannot ward off earthquakes and other natural disasters. But man-made ills are entirely within our power to prevent. A sustainable world of freedom and dignity for all is entirely within our power to build.

I was a child in war-torn Korea. We had little to eat, no schools and barely any shelter. But we did have textbooks from UNESCO, medicine from Unicef, and military support from nations acting through the United Nations. With international help and hard work of our own, we recovered and built a dynamic democracy. I have seen that dramatic change is possible.

I know this is not a graduation ceremony, but I am going to say this to you anyway: a Harvard education is a tremendous gift. The world needs you to use what you acquire here not to perpetuate the status quo, but to be part of the transformation the world so urgently needs. I look forward to the imprint you will make in advancing the common good.

Thank you.