Honorable Randy J. Dunn, President of the Southern Illinois University System, Honorable Brad Colwell, Interim Chancellor of SIU Carbondale, Mr. Jak Tichenor, Interim Director of the Paul Simon Institute, Ms. Sheila Simon, former Illinois Lt. Governor and daughter of the late Senator Paul Simon,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am grateful to Southern Illinois University for inviting me to be here.
Since I may not be back again any time soon, let me be the first to wish you a very happy 150th anniversary – which you will celebrate in 2019!
Let me also thank you for the gift that SIU bestowed on the United Nations this week: news of its decision to join the UN Academic Impact initiative. You now join thousands of schools across the world in an effort to use your research and scholarship to advance UN goals. We look forward to your active participation.
I would also like to congratulate the Paul Simon Institute on its 20th birthday, to be marked next year.
The institute’s namesake was a renowned supporter of international education and of active U.S. engagement across the international agenda. I am told he visited more than 100 countries. As someone who has visited more than 150 countries across a decade as Secretary-General, I can tell you he sounds like my kind of guy!
But of course what is most important is not how many miles one travels, but the distance one goes to help people in need.
Senator Simon represented the United States at UN meetings on weapons control under two Presidents, Carter and Reagan. In that same bipartisan spirit, he was the driving force behind two foreign assistance laws that have advanced global cooperation in addressing water challenges.
Let me also thank the United Nations Association of Southern Illinois. You and your fellow associations across the world are among the UN’s best allies, linking the global and the local and letting people know that the UN works for them.
So I am very glad to be in a place where global citizenship is part of the school’s identity, and where diversity is in the campus DNA.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am visiting at a time of transition and uncertainty.
Here in the United States, you are preparing to inaugurate a new President.
At the United Nations, I will soon return to civilian life. There are just ten days left in my term; my final countdown starts tomorrow!
The world is also undergoing a transition. We are becoming more urban, as more people live in cities. We are becoming younger -- with the largest generation of youth the world has ever known. And we are striving to make a crucial economic and environmental transition to a safer, more sustainable path of development in order to make peace with the planet and ensure prosperity for people.
I have served during a decade of turmoil. The world suffered the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. There are more refugees and people in need of humanitarian aid today than at any time since the Second World War. Inequality is on the rise; so is violent extremism.
Conflicts are growing more protracted. Political polarization is growing more entrenched. Shocking crimes have been carried out against civilians caught up in armed conflict, defying the rules of war. Even in peacetime, basic human decency often seems in short supply, as people look and talk past each other.
These challenges have been as numerous and as complicated as any we have seen in UN history.
We have made important advances. But of course the work of the United Nations is never finished, and my successor, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, will face many urgent demands from day one.
The conflict in Syria has defied the efforts of some of the world’s most experienced UN mediators. The divisions remain profound -- between Syrians, among the country’s neighbours, and within the international community. I continue to stress that there is no military solution. Military success in Aleppo today will not mean peace tomorrow without a political settlement and justice for the crimes this war has witnessed.
My successor will also face troubling situations in Yemen and Mali. In South Sudan, we are warning about the risk of genocide.
And almost everywhere, people are concerned about jobs, terrorism and the next extreme storm or outbreak of disease.
Yet amid this insecurity, there are gains to report.
Over the past decade, the United Nations successfully ended peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste. We will soon do the same in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. We helped ensure a peaceful political transition in Burkina Faso and peaceful elections in Guinea, and supported the historic transition in Myanmar. Our diplomatic tools can work.
We have also seen, despite turbulence on many fronts, the world come together to adopt an inspiring new plan for the world’s future -- the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Agenda is encapsulated in 17 Sustainable Development Goals -- or SDGs -- to guide us as we strive to end hunger, empower women, increase access to education and build effective institutions that serve the people. These goals apply to all countries; even the richest have yet to fully conquer discrimination or safeguard the environment.
We are nearing the end of the first year of implementing this 15-year plan. I have been encouraged to see Governments, businesses and people mobilizing behind the SDGs. This work will bring improvements in the daily lives of people across the world -- and help to address the factors that drive instability and violence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I also draw hope from the inroads we are making in combating climate change -- the defining threat of our time.
The people of Illinois already know the possible nightmare scenario for your state and the wider Midwest region: even more scorching summers; even more extreme flooding; crop failures; worsening air quality and much, much else.
The landmark Paris Agreement on climate change can help us avoid or lessen these and other impacts. But the agreement is not just about avoiding doomsday; it points the way toward the jobs and markets of the future. Climate action is already part of the real economy. It is increasingly a major factor in the decisions of investors and businesses.
Climate change is real. The science is settled. As the world faces record warmth, the Paris Agreement has entered into force with rapid speed, embraced by all the world’s leading emitters -- including the United States, China, India, and the European Union. It is a rare and precious achievement that we should nurture and guard.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In September 2014, I joined several hundred thousand people in New York City who took to the streets to call on world leaders to take climate action. A great portion of the marchers were young people, demanding that my generation do what is necessary to ensure a proper future for theirs.
I was deeply moved by their engagement on this challenge. But of course, young people are passionate about a great many issues. I have tried to repay that activism with new steps at the United Nations to bring their voices into our deliberations.
I am proud to have appointed the first-ever United Nations Youth Envoy, as well as a Special Envoy for youth employment. The United Nations Security Council has also recognized the importance of youth by adopting -- one year ago this month -- its first-ever resolution on youth, peace and security. We are determined to work not just for youth, but with youth.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I also draw hope from the spirit that resides right here in southern Illinois. Later today, I will visit the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
One can draw a straight line from the principles that President Lincoln defended to those that animate the United Nations. Lincoln was a heroic force for equality, integration and reconciliation; these ideals represent the best spirit of the United States, and we desperately need that spirit today.
Another American President has also been a lifelong inspiration for me. I had the honour to meet President Kennedy in 1962, when I was a teenager visiting the United States – an unforgettable privilege that helped inspire my diplomatic career.
In his State of the Union address that year, he spoke of the United Nations in words that resound in our time, too. And I quote:
“Our instrument and our hope is the United Nations, and I see little merit in the impatience of those who would abandon this imperfect world instrument because they dislike our imperfect world. For the troubles of a world organization merely reflect the troubles of the world itself. And if the organization is weakened, these troubles can only increase.”
End of quote.
Senator Simon, for his part, once said that the United Nations, and again I quote, “has provided opportunities for nations to work together more, an opportunity too often ignored”.
End of quote.
At the end of a decade, I have a profound sense of the great achievements that are possible when nations work together more – but also what happens when nations ignore our common interests and shared values.
So many people are suffering. So much is at stake. But so much is possible.
This has been a decade in which collective action has changed hundreds of millions of lives for the better. Inclusive international cooperation solves problems, promotes peace and recognizes diversity as a strength.
I grew up in war-torn Korea. The United Nations brought food and medicine. More than that, it brought a message that we were not alone. The United Nations was our beacon of hope. For the past ten years, I have tried to keep that beacon alight for others.
As I pass the baton to my successor, the United Nations will count on the United States and all countries to pull together at this consequential time for peace, prosperity and human rights for all.
With passion and compassion, we can achieve our goals.