Washington, DC

16 April 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at the National Press Club (as delivered)

It is a great honour and pleasure to meet with you, and thank you for your kind invitation.

I know you are eager to get to tonight’s “main course”; I know you have finished your main course but you must be more interested in the main course: the question and answer session.  I look forward to that.  But before that, let me say a few words as some food for thought.

Recently I asked one of my very senior advisers who has been working for more than 40 years, a long-serving adviser. I asked him, of course, there is so much trouble, what is happening in this world, “Have you ever seen during your 40-plus life with the United Nations such a time we are having, with so many fires taking place all around the world?”  At once, at a time like this, I can name at least 10 hot spots immediately, in addition to continuing economic difficulties around the world.  He said he has never experienced such a time.  [Before] there was one or two crises, at least here or there, but now we have at least 10 headlines crises. In addition to these headlines crises we follow on a daily basis, we have forgotten crises or frozen crises.  I would not name which are the forgotten or frozen cases; you will know them better than I do; of course, you have been following them all the time.

We face many crises at once.  There are at a minimum 50 million refugees around the world.  That is our job, to provide daily food, sanitation, water, education – that is a huge burden.  Many people who are sick; many people who are out of school, many children – the United Nations’ responsibility is getting more and more tough.  The United Nations has appealed for $16 billion to cover humanitarian relief for this year -- almost five times what we needed a decade ago.  It’s a huge increase, exponential increase.  Millions of people face hatred and persecution; billions suffer from hunger and exploitation.  Billions of dollars continue to be squandered on nuclear weapons and other arsenals. 

Beyond these numbers, we see several transformative trends. First, new economic powers have emerged.  Second, more people are migrating than ever before, seeking better opportunities.  Now more people live in mega-cities. People are coming to the cities, causing problems for good governance.   Extremism and terrorism and crime have taken on more virulent forms.  Extreme weather events are heating our world and destroying and killing many people and infrastructures.

States alone cannot solve these problems.  Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be; for example, we are living in the United States.  I really think the United States is the most powerful, most resourceful country. The US cannot do it.  They look to the United Nations.  But the United Nations cannot handle alone.  We need collective power, solidarity; otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Millions of people continue to suffer the devastating consequences of governance failures, injustice, inequality, violations of human rights and unbearable poverty. Now let me just mention several cases.  What I am going to say is not all, but they are some of the very serious situations.

Let us think about Syria. This is the fifth year in which the Syrian people have been abandoned, killed and displaced and made refugees.  Meanwhile, the parties continue to show little or almost no willingness to solve this through dialogue.  This is why I have asked my Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to do maximum efforts to restart political dialogue as a way to implement the Geneva Communiqué. If anyone is truly serious about engaging in meaningful negotiations to end this nightmare, he has to work on this matter.

I would like to make a special plea on behalf of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.  They are caught between the military machine of the Syrian Government and the brutality of extremist groups, Da’esh-ISIL.  They have little way out -- and aid can find little way in.  And their suffering is largely out of the spotlight.  I have worked very hard recently to protect nearly 18,000 people who have been trapped between Government forces and Da’esh. There are at least 3,500 children who need our immediate protection.

Yemen is also in flames.  Even before the latest escalation, two out of three Yemenis relied on humanitarian assistance.  Levels of food insecurity were higher than in the poorest stretches of Africa.  The recent fighting has only multiplied the suffering – and insecurity.  Hundreds are dead.  Humanitarian supplies are being blocked.  And UNICEF has reported that an astounding one-third of the fighters are children.

That is why I am calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen by all the parties.  It is time to support corridors for lifesaving aid  – and a passage to real peace.  The Saudis have assured me that they understand that there must be a political process.  I can on all Yemenis to participate in good faith.  The United Nations-supported diplomatic process remains the best way out of a drawn-out war with terrifying implications for regional stability.

In Nigeria, our hope is that the new government can promote a return to normalcy -- and a return home for the schoolchildren who have been kidnapped and mistreated during the last one year.  In South Sudan, more than 115,000 people are now being accommodated within United Nations camps.  United Nations camps have never been designed to accommodate that many refugees.  But the situation is very fragile.

I welcome the framework agreed by the P5 + 1 and Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear programme and remove sanctions. Once a comprehensive agreement is finalized by the end of June, the United Nations will do our best to help the implementation process, including through stringent monitoring and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  This breakthrough can also create space for efforts to address the many other serious security challenges in the region.

We have all been horrified by the terrorist attacks and violence committed by groups such as Da’esh, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and others.  Your colleagues in the media have been among the victims, and I continue to stress the need for journalists to have the security they need to do their vital work.

The United Nations is working to present a comprehensive plan of action to address violent extremism and terrorism. I am going to have a summit in the General Assembly this year.  Next week in New York, I along with the President of the General Assembly are going to convene a high-level thematic debate on reconciliation and tolerance, how we can address violent extremism by levelling up, enhancing mutual respect and  reconciliation.  All these are very important issues and without addressing these issues, we will not be able to have sustainable peace and sustainable development of our society.   We are working closely with the Alliance of Civilizations, and I have invited many world-renowned religious leaders.  I believe that there are very important roles to be played by religious leaders and educators, to teach their followers, their students what are the correct mutual respect, understanding and reconciliation and harmonious living together; these are very important issues.  So as I said, I am going to present a comprehensive plan of action by this year.

We must ensure that counter-terrorism efforts respect human rights and international humanitarian law.  As we have seen time and again, overreaction is the extremists’ best recruiting tool.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must not let the smoke from these fires obscure longer-term opportunities.  We must not be distracted by all the so-called headline news.  There are many more important issues to make our world a better place, longer-term issues: development, sustainable development and how to address climate change issues.

For the past 15 years, the world has been pursuing the Millennium Development Goals -- an eight-point blueprint for reducing poverty.  There has been remarkable progress.  The world has lifted at least 700 million people out of poverty.  We have averted millions of deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.  Millions of children -- including girls -- have better access to education.  Our target was to have all school-age children have primary education, but unfortunately we still have 50 million school-age children out of school.  We have to bring them back to school through a new vision.

Our challenge now is to finish the job. That is why the United Nations Member States are working very hard to shape a post-2015 development agenda with a set of sustainable development goals.  We have identified 17 goals which may, which will be able to address the whole spectrum of our world, people-centered and planet-sensitive, economically, socially and environmentally.

Beyond a focus on shared prosperity and harmony with the planet, the new agenda will also emphasize the crucial role of justice, institutions and fundamental freedoms.  And for the first time, the goals will apply to all countries; even the richest are witnessing rising inequality, and no country has ended violence and discrimination against women. 

Tackling climate change is an urgent part of the picture. Climate change is a defining issue of our times.  The international community has started late while they have been talking.  They haven’t taken action; we have to take action now. It may be too late, but it will not be too late if we take action now.

When I first became Secretary-General in 2007, I first met President [George W.] Bush.  At that time, we were talking about what kind of agenda I should discuss with President Bush.  A lot of security and peace issues.  I wanted to raise the climate change issue, but I was advised by many senior advisers, “You will not discuss this with President Bush.”  But I raised this issue.  At that time, the press carried just one single line that I discussed climate change with President Bush.  But later that year, in 2007, when negotiators were working in Bali to adopt the Bali road map, the first one which was adopted, I was able to have that agreement with the help of President Bush and the American Government.  I really appreciate it.  That was an important step at that time.

There are still some people who do not want to acknowledge there is climate change.  But there is climate change.  By any standard, scientific evidence clearly tells us that climate change is happening, is approaching much, much faster than they expected.

Moreover, no one can deny the phenomenal shifts that are already under way.  Investments in renewable energy are growing rapidly.  The costs of solar and wind energy are plummeting, and are often less expensive than fossil fuel alternatives. 

Not only is the science sound, so are the economics.  Climate action pays.  The markets of the future will reward sustainable solutions.

Over the next 15 years, the world will make massive investments in energy and other infrastructure.  We can do this sustainably – or we can lock ourselves into a path that raises the global thermostat higher still.  The choice is quite clear.  Scientists say we may be stepping at a tipping point.  Depending upon how you put your feet, we may be able to go toward a sustainable path or we may have regrets for our succeeding generations.  Therefore, we must act now!

The United States has just submitted its intended climate action.   I commend President [Barack] Obama for his leadership and vision in announcing the US-China joint statement in November last year.  That was a major step.  And I also commend the European Union for their very solid, visionary plan to reverse climate change.  All this US, China and European Unions’ championing role are now putting all of us on the right path.  I think all the countries, every country has a role to play.

I have been emphasizing that China has made important commitments.  Governments, businesses and people everywhere are more intent than ever on finding a common way forward. 

The world is now recognizing a basic truth of our times: we need to buy insurance for the planet.  We must all be ambitious as we look to conclude an agreement at the climate change conference in Paris in December. 

There is a strong moral dimension to this effort.  Today, I would like to announce that I will visit the Vatican later this month and meet with His Holiness Pope Francis to discuss common concerns, including the encyclical on the environment that he plans to issue in the months ahead.  I think this will be the first time for any Secretary-General to be invited by the Pope.

For my part, I have invited Pope Francis to the United Nations, and also President Obama and all the leaders of the world, to a special summit meeting in September at the United Nations, asking them to adopt a visionary and sustainable development agenda.  And I am sure that all the leaders will come and declare their visions to the world as a way of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. This week’s meetings of the World Bank and IMF here in Washington are an important building block.  Another key step will be the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa next July.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are the first generation that can end poverty, and we are the last generation to address climate change.  This is a fact and we must act now.  In that regard, the year 2015 is a year for global action -- a year of big decisions, ambitious decisions for humanity.

From safety to sustainability, the United Nations relies on the active engagement of the United States.

I know from my own experience growing up in war-torn Korea what a transformation the United States, working with the United Nations, can help make possible.

I have seen in just the past year the remarkable solidarity of the United States with the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in coping with the outbreak of the Ebola crisis.  The United Nations coordinated a wide-ranging response, and we are now within reach of our goal of zero cases.  Our goal is to get these countries to zero cases and remain at zero cases, so that we may be clear that these countries and this world is Ebola-free.  I am going to meet the presidents of these three countries in Washington tomorrow, and we will discuss again how we are going to help these countries to be able to declare they are Ebola-free as soon as possible.

At the same time, we have a very important mission to do.  Earlier this month, I have launched another high-level panel of independent leaders, as well as experts, to have a lessons-learned process – what has gone wrong, what has been weak, and in case unfortunately we have another global health crisis, how we can mobilize our financial efforts and provide logistical support to those countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will try to finish by saying that I will count on the United States to continue to support the work of the United Nations. As I said, when I was young, our country was very poor.  I was just six years old when the Korean War broke out.  And we have seen the United Nations flags, and the United Nations brought not only security support but social and economic assistance.  And United Nations was the beacon of hope to us.  Now I am humbled, whenever I travel around the world, I see many people who look to the United Nations as their beacon of hope.  Without your help, the United Nations cannot deliver.  In the middle of this, the United States can play a very important role, and that’s why I am speaking to the people of the United States.  And you may represent all different media organizations, but I really need the people and the United States Government to provide generous support for humanitarian issues and also show strong political leadership.

This year’s 70th anniversary of the United Nations falls at a time when we face major decisions that will shape lives for generations to come.  This is a time of test but far more one of tremendous opportunity.  As the distinctions between the national and the international continue to fall away, we can and must come together to chart a course towards a safer and more sustainable future for all of us.