Facing Great Challenges, Our Capacity to Solve Them Even Greater If We Work, Build Together, Secretary-General Tells Los Angeles World Affairs Council
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, California, today:
Thank you for your warm welcome. It is a pleasure to be making my sixth visit to California as Secretary-General. I visit often because California is a hub of global action, from commerce to culture to climate change. But, I must confess that, as a big fan of action movies, the sight of the Hollywood sign up in the hills is almost as exciting as seeing the UN’s blue flag each day at our Headquarters in New York.
I thank the good friends of the United Nations who have made tonight’s gathering possible. I am grateful to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council for its support. The RAND Corporation’s research makes vital contributions. And I have fond memories of my visit to UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] six years ago.
I also want to salute the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor Eric Garcetti and so many other Californians who recognize the great value of the United Nations. We depend on global citizens like you to promote international understanding — and to help us build even closer ties between the United Nations and the United States.
Today, we need your engagement more than ever. This is a time of turbulence in world affairs. I would like to talk to you tonight about what the United Nations is doing to meet today’s threats. I am also here with a message of hope. Despite multiple crises and daily outrages that defy our common humanity, this is also a decisive moment when we can set the world on a safer, better path.
Across the world, people worry about the next extreme storm, terrorist attack, financial shock or outbreak of deadly disease. There may be fewer wars between countries, but there is more insecurity. Inequality keeps growing. Women and girls in all societies continue to face discrimination. In too many places, military spending is far outpacing investments in people. Citizens are looking to their leaders for decisions, but, too often, they see deadlock.
More than 125 million people worldwide need humanitarian assistance. More than 60 million have been forcibly displaced from their homes — the most since the Second World War. These numbers are unsustainable. The human costs are intolerable. There is one big truth about the challenges we face: no single country or region can solve these problems on its own. We need to work together.
In an interdependent world, there is no national security without global security. There is no prosperity on Main Street without vibrant economies everywhere. When it comes to protecting the natural environment, there is no “my backyard” or “your backyard”, but just our one and only planet. Tackling these issues at the national level demands working effectively with the international community. That is the global logic of our times.
Last week, at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, I met a Syrian girl who told me she wanted to become an interpreter. I met a Syrian boy who was yearning to return to school. I was deeply moved by the way they held on to their dreams. Today, those dreams number in the millions. Half the world’s refugees are children — 30 million boys and girls whose lives have been put on hold, who have seen things a child should never have to see.
As you may know, I, myself, was once a displaced person. As a child in war-torn Korea, I saw my village destroyed. My family and others were forced to flee into the surrounding hills. We survived on food and medicine from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. We studied with textbooks provided by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]. And of course, the troops of many nations — in particular the United States — secured our freedom while fighting under the United Nations flag.
The United Nations was our lifeline and beacon of hope. Today, I am determined that the United Nations does everything in its power to help refugees everywhere to keep their dreams alive. I have been urging leaders across Europe, and indeed throughout the world — including the United States — to show greater solidarity not just through relief, but through resettlement and other legal pathways.
When managed properly, accepting refugees is a win for everyone. Refugees are famously devoted to education and self-reliance. They bring new skills and dynamism into ageing workforces. Attempts to demonize them are not only offensive, they are factually incorrect. I have been calling on leaders to counter fear-mongering with reassurance, and to fight inaccurate information with the truth.
Refugees have a right to asylum, not bias and barbed wire. Today’s refugee crisis — and the large-scale migration of people in search of opportunity — are signs of deeper challenges. From Syria to Afghanistan to South Sudan, we need to resolve the wars that force people to flee. Diplomacy by the United Nations mediators and our partners is bringing some hope of progress in Syria. A cessation of hostilities has held, despite some incidents, for more than a month. A ceasefire in Yemen is scheduled to begin in five days. There is no military solution to either of these conflicts.
Across the world, the United Nations is helping countries to turn their backs on conflict. Peacekeeping deployments are at their highest in a generation — 16 operations and more than 100,000 troops and police. These soldiers and police are serving in some of the most difficult places in the world — locations where no single country can, or will, go on its own — places where, without United Nations forces, there would be dangerous security vacuums.
We are striving to improve the speed with which we deploy our peace operations, and to strengthen the protection we offer civilians caught up in violence. We are also working to end the scourge of abuses by international troops; those sent to help people must never become their tormentors.
The United Nations is also focusing on the deeper roots of conflict. Securing human rights for all — regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or other distinction — remains a core objective. We are pressing Member States to address the underlying drivers of radicalization. We must avoid the trap of overreacting or further alienating the people we are trying to reach. The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which I am convening in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May, will be an opportunity to address some of the root causes of today’s crises, and to improve our global response.
I have also tried to revitalize efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The end of the cold war did not mean an end to the nuclear threat. The risks of nuclear weapons remain pervasive. Non-State actors are known to be trying to gain access to nuclear and other materials for weapons of mass destruction. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues provocative acts such, as tests of weapons and missiles, that violate Security Council resolutions. Nuclear Powers are spending vast sums to modernize their arsenals, leaving other pressing needs — schools, health care, infrastructure — underfunded. The best guarantee against a nuclear catastrophe is a world without nuclear weapons. There are no right hands for the wrong weapons.
In the broadest sense, our aim is to leave no one behind. This is the promise at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs. This was a landmark achievement approved by world leaders last September. It is a 15-year blueprint to end global poverty, fight inequality, promote the rule of law and build peaceful societies.
Women’s empowerment is a key thread running through the Goals. The world will never achieve 100 per cent of its potential if 50 per cent of its people cannot participate on equal terms. I have tried since my first days in office to lead by example, and am proud of the glass ceilings we have broken at the United Nations.
Climate action will also be critical. This has been a priority since the day I took office. Now we have the historic Paris Agreement. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb their emissions. Markets now have the clear signal they need to scale up investments that will generate clean energy growth and help prevent dangerous climate change.
On 22 April, I will host the signing ceremony for the agreement at United Nations Headquarters. I am pleased that both the United States and China have announced their intention to sign on the first day it is open for signature. We have a long way to go, but the trajectory is clear.
The 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement will also help us prevent conflict. We know that a world of hunger and disease is one that breeds frustration and volatility. A society that denies people a voice in decision-making runs the risk of fracture. A warming world risks major upheavals and movements of people. A more sustainable world will be a safer world.
The United Nations was born here in the United States, here in California. The drafting of the Charter more than 70 years ago drew strength from California’s strong global identity and from the core American values of equality and freedom. Today, the people of California and the United States will continue to play a vital role in realizing the Charter’s vision.
Over the years, the United States has been one of the world’s most generous contributors of humanitarian aid, a champion of human rights and a leader in the fight against hunger. It continues to be the largest contributor to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets. And its example of strength in diversity continues to inspire the world.
Diplomats of all nations recognize that the United Nations needs strong and engaged leadership from the United States for our Organization to work well. California, for its part, is a powerhouse of social progress and change. I am encouraged by the very active United Nations Associations here in Southern California and elsewhere in the state.
And Los Angeles is a global city. What you do here can inspire cities everywhere. In that spirit, I ask you to take on a leadership role in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. After all, the SDGs are universal; they apply to all countries. Even the wealthiest have not conquered poverty. Even the most technologically advanced are not yet acting in full harmony with the environment. Even the oldest democracies still wrestle with racism and other forms of injustice.
I, therefore, urge you to engage the storytellers and artists of your creative community to spread knowledge of the 17 Goals. I ask you to stimulate the activism of local civil society to build support for the SDGs. I encourage you to forge plans and partnerships across government, business, academia, philanthropy and the grass roots in order to fully implement the SDGs right here in Los Angeles by the year 2030.
And I appeal to you to remain at the forefront of climate action. California’s emission limits, advances in clean energy and ground-breaking cap-and-trade programme have put you at the centre of the energy revolution. You are showing that what was said to be costly and impossible is actually the sensible and profitable wave of the future.
As the world grows ever more urban, solutions here in Los Angeles and across this great state can point the way towards a future of peace and dignity for all.
We face great challenges, but our capacity to solve them is even greater, if we work and build together. Thank you.