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Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York today:
I am pleased to join you this afternoon to talk about the role of the United Nations in a changing global landscape. I thank Mr. Haass for inviting me and for his support throughout my term. I also thank my good friend Rabbi Schneier for his warm words of introduction. His work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and its focus on dialogue and mutual respect is particularly important in these days of escalating hate speech.
Today, I visit you at a time of transition. Here in the United States, you are preparing to inaugurate a new President. At the United Nations, a new Secretary-General is preparing to take the helm. Over my 10 years as Secretary-General, I have witnessed many dramatic changes. I have seen significant advances and some dispiriting setbacks. Victories for multilateralism, and failures, too.
There is no doubt that we live in a time of uncertainty and turmoil. Many people are scared or angry, and their response is often to turn inward and reject the other. We must try to counter these forces wherever and whenever they occur.
We live in an increasingly globalized world. We are connected by economics, where a disturbance in one sector can ripple around the world. We are connected by our planet, which is sending us daily warning signs. And we are connected by our common humanity.
We are more aware than ever before of the inequities that destabilize our world, and of the consequences of ignoring them. When people feel disenfranchised, powerless, overlooked or abused, they respond — at the ballot box or on the battlefield. These are the forces that the United Nations was created to manage.
You are all well aware of our Organization’s aims, achievements and shortcomings. We live in an imperfect world, and the United Nations is a mirror of that world.
We see the complexity of today’s challenges most plainly in the atrocious plight of people suffering in South Sudan or in Syria. In Syria, legitimate grievances were met with brutal oppression. The flagrant disregard by the Government for human rights precipitated a barbarous civil war that has had profound consequences in the country, the region and the world.
Development in Syria has been set back decades. The exodus of refugees has put a major strain on the country’s neighbours. The shock waves of the forced mass movement of people have been felt throughout Europe and beyond. The discord in the Security Council has prevented a solution in Syria and soured international relations in other arenas. And the conflict has provided a fertile breeding ground for violent extremists hell-bent on their own evil agenda.
No one wins. Everyone loses. The only answer is a political solution built on genuine dialogue that is backed by a united international community. The same holds true in Yemen, Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya and Iraq, and between Israelis and Palestinians.
The link between peace, development and human rights is most clearly apparent where nations are in turmoil. But, it is also evident when we look in our own back yards — wherever we see honest families struggling for better lives but dragged down by poverty and inequality.
That is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed last year by all United Nations Member States, is universal, applying to all countries. And it is why the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are closely integrated and mutually supporting. Put simply, the 2030 Agenda is a blueprint for peace, prosperity, opportunity and dignity for all people living on a healthy planet.
There are many critical components to the 2030 Agenda. But, I would like to highlight one element in particular that will have the most far-reaching effects for the most people. Climate action. Climate change is already affecting people all over the world, including here in the United States.
People in the coal and oil industries are understandably concerned about jobs and profits. But, if the world fails to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the consequences will be devastating — for farmers, for low-lying cities, for water security, for communities vulnerable to wildfires, for the tourism industry and so on.
Governments around the world have recognized the dangers of climate change and the urgency of addressing it. They understand that climate change is a threat multiplier that can disrupt ecosystems and economies alike and cause mass displacement of people and tensions within and between countries. They also understand the vast opportunities inherent in low-emissions, climate-resilient development.
That is why the Paris Agreement entered into force this year in record time. Governments understand it is in their own national interest to act on climate change. This is a rare and precious achievement that we should nurture and guard fiercely. It is the key to a sustainable future. To jettison or damage it is to condemn future generations to untold suffering.
This is a critical juncture. We are the first generation that has all the tools necessary to end extreme poverty, shrink inequality and lay the foundations for a sustainable future for all humankind. We are also the last generation that can avert the existential threat of climate change.
For the past decade, I have tried to defend human rights, promote international cooperation, empower women and young people, and improve the effectiveness of the United Nations itself. I am confident my successor will build on our advances and take on the lessons of our setbacks.
The lesson I have learned, and which I will continue to emphasize, is that we all need to be global citizens. By acting in each other’s best interests we inevitably further our own.
I thank you for your attention, and I ask for your wise leadership in the months and years to come. Let us work together to build the future we want — a world of peace, sustainable development and human rights for all.