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Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at International Conference Centre, Geneva

3 September 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon


at International Conference Centre, Geneva


Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference held in Geneva, 3 September:

Secretary-General:  Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the media, it is a great pleasure to see you again.  As you know, I am just coming back from my visit to the Arctic.

The Copenhagen climate change conference is less than three months away.  Indeed it is closer than that.

We have only 15 negotiating days left.  We are very much pressured by this time.  We have to resolve some of the most complex issues within 15 days.

I travelled to the polar ice rim to see for myself some of the visible impacts of climate change.

I saw the remains of a glacier that just a few years ago was a majestic mass of ice.  It has collapsed.  It was very troubling.

I travelled nine hours north from the world’s northernmost settlement by ship to reach the ice rim.

In just a few years time, a ship may be able to sail unimpeded all the way to the North Pole.  I had to use an icebreaker.

At current rates, scientists predict the Arctic could be virtually ice-free by 2030.

On the day I reached the ice rim, the first ever commercial vessel was traversing the Northeast Passage.

The receding ice is opening opportunities for exploitation of Arctic resources.  If not managed carefully, this competition could lead to overfishing, pollution from mining and oil exploration, and even international disputes over territorial claims.

We need cooperation, not competition.

I also heard first-hand from representatives of the indigenous peoples of the north how climate change and other environmental change is affecting their lives.

Above all I talked to scientists with decades of Arctic experience, and heard their sobering findings.

It has been said that the Arctic is our barometer -- the canary in the coal mine.  But it is much more than that.

Changes in the Arctic are accelerating global climate change.

Instead of reflecting heat, the Arctic is absorbing it as the sea ice diminishes, thus speeding up global warming.

Methane, trapped in permafrost and on the seabed, is escaping into the atmosphere.  Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Increased melt from the Greenland ice cap threatens to raise sea levels and alter the flow of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm.

Our foot is stuck on the gas pedal.  We have to pull it off.

It is essential that we act on what the science tells us.

In two weeks, the United Nations will convene a climate change summit in New York.

I expect candid and constructive discussions.  I expect serious bridge building.  I expect strong outcomes.

I am telling people today, and I will tell world leaders in New York, that we must seize the moment.

Scientists have been accused for years of scaremongering.  But the real scaremongers are those who say we cannot afford climate action -- that it will hold back economic growth.

I said already this morning, they are wrong, and am saying it again, they are wrong.

Climate change could spell widespread economic disaster.

The answer lies in green growth -- sustainable growth.

We have to cut emissions.  And we have to adapt to changes already on us.

Developed countries must set ambitious emission targets.

Developing countries also need to act to slow the growth of their emissions. 

And the most vulnerable -- especially the least developed countries and low-lying small islands nations -- need help to adapt.

I went to the Arctic to inject much needed urgency into the climate change debate.

I went to the Arctic to raise again political leadership among the leaders of the world.

I will continue to speak out on this issue until we seal a deal.  A deal that will be comprehensive, balanced and equitable, and fair for the future of human beings.

Thank you very much.

Question:  Thanks for the impetus you are giving this Mr. Secretary-General.  I would just like to know what happens if there is no deal in Copenhagen, because this process has been going on for a long time.  Secondly, have you heard anything about proposals from the developed countries on commitments regarding financing technology in response to the demands by the G-77 and other developing countries?

Secretary-General: First and foremost, there are several issues, very serious political issues which need to be settled in Copenhagen.  As I said, this summit meeting in New York this month will have to work as a bridging role where leaders will demonstrate their political leadership and instruct the negotiators clearly on their guidelines.  We know that the financial and technological support for developing countries is the key; how much and in what scale can we provide support so that they can adapt and mitigate.  That will be the key, together with an ambitious target by the industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions as science tells us.  Those will be very key issues which we will have to deal with.  Now, [these issues] are seriously being considered, from what I understand.  We have not yet received any official positions.  This issue has been discussed in the G-20 leaders’ meeting, the G-8 leaders’ meeting, and it will be discussed in New York, and will be discussed again in the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh on September 24.

Question: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report mentions a range of cuts for greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations of between 25 and 40 per cent to avoid the worst.  At the moment, they are very far from that level of cuts in promises so far.  Many developing countries want that range to be respected at least.  Will that be your benchmark for success or failure in Copenhagen; if we don’t reach 25 per cent, will you declare it a failure?  Thank you.

Secretary-General: It is crucial that developed countries act as science tells us; that’s 25 to 40 per cent.  The European Union has made its 20-20-20 visions; that is quite commendable.  I again urge developed countries to act on a more ambitious target. That is the key, together with the financial support and technological support.  This issue has been the subject of discussions during many years now, particularly this year through UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] negotiations and also the Major Economies Forum meeting.  We will continue to discuss this issue.

Question: We know the problems and we know the solutions but do you think that there is a real political will from world leaders to do this and apply the recommendations, and if yes, how can this be translated in real actions?

Secretary-General: Many leaders and many countries have expressed their positions and commitments.  As you said, translating these commitments into action rather than words is crucially important at this time.  That is why the United Nations is convening this summit meeting [in New York].  We expect that more than 100 leaders will participate.  This is the forum where they will really be able to demonstrate their political leadership role.  I know each and every leader; they have their own domestic agendas, domestic challenges.  They should be able to overcome this one.  That is why we are providing a political forum where they can give political leadership and political guidance to these very important issues.

Question: [translated from French] Mr. Secretary-General, when one talks about climate change and its possible consequences and when one looks, for example, at the paper industry which absorbs trees and forests, how will you tackle, in a practical way, these subjects there?  And also when one looks at the advice the United Nations gives, such as when we are asked to consider before printing out a paper at the library and at the same time, just outside the building, how many vehicles are waiting with their motors running for security reasons?  So, do we talk about conscience or incoherence?

Secretary-General: That is again a very important area which we have to address.  Deforestation is a serious issue.  Deforestation emits around 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions -- that is one fifth of total global emissions.  There are many forest-rich countries like Brazil and Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and some European countries.  They have their own discussions and I am going to ask the leaders of those forest-rich countries to meet together and address this issue.  In fact, on 22 September, at the initiative of the Norwegian Government, Prime Minister [Jens] Stoltenberg and I are jointly convening this REDD [United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries] initiative.  This is the initiative to manage the deforestation and forestry issues, which take all the greater part of these gas emissions.  Many countries, particularly Norway, have provided financial incentives.  Recently there was a report about the deforestation situation in Brazil, which was quite serious.  I have been urging many leaders, particularly those from forest-rich countries, to manage this issue, to manage land degradation and reforestation issues.

Question: The last two world climate conferences were landmarks in how they managed to move the debate on climate change really in a very important manner.  Do you think that this conference is in the same league?  There has been a lot of talking going on, but ultimately, what do you think the outcome will be and how will that feed into the Copenhagen agreement?

Secretary-General: This WCC–3 is one of the very important initiatives where world leaders and senior Government officials gather together and discuss certain areas of cooperation leading to Copenhagen.  This should not be regarded as a sort of alternative or replacing the Copenhagen meeting.  This will be a very important complementary process.  As you know, many countries in the region, the regional groups, or certain groups like Major Economic Forum, have been convening amongst themselves to address climate change from a certain specific aspect.  Those initiatives will always be very much welcome, will be very much complementary.  Wherever and whenever they can have some convergence of agreements and understandings, it will be very helpful in the negotiating process led by the UNFCCC, leading to the Copenhagen meeting.  In that regard, the World Climate Conference–3 this time will be very important.  As you know, this morning, a framework was unanimously agreed on by the Member States.  This will be a very important input.

Question: What sort of role should the media play in the process of adaptation to the climate?  My second question, what are your personal gains from the conference?  Thank you.

Secretary-General: That is exactly why I am meeting you today.  The media’s role is crucial.  Without your role, how can political leaders, how can the Secretary-General of the United Nations, or other related organizations and leaders, how can they communicate with the world at large?  That is a very important part of your role -- to collect and to deliver the correct messages to our constituents in general, and to political leaders -- that will be very important.  I have sent out a strong message to world leaders standing on the polar ice rim.  That was done by the media and I appreciate your taking the time to visit such extremely difficult places.

Now, I expect in Copenhagen that the leaders of the developed countries would commit to ambitious mid-term targets by 2020 as scientists tell us.  And I expect the leaders of major developing countries, including China and India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil and many other developing countries, to also be committed to take nationally appropriate mitigation actions.  And I expect the leaders of developed countries to agree on the scale of financial and technological support for developing countries.  These are crucially important.  Then I think we will have to discuss a comprehensive global framework, how we can implement the agreement to be decided upon in Copenhagen.

Question:  Good morning.  Mr. Secretary-General, last July in Italy, the G-8 and the G-20 reached an agreement over climate that they called historic. Mr. Gordon Brown said it was a historic agreement; you called it an impressive agreement.  After that, did you have an opportunity to talk to some of the leaders of the most industrialized countries?  Did you have a sense that they are getting the message?  Why should they reach an agreement in December when they did not reach an agreement in July?

Secretary-General: The G-8 summit meeting in l’Aquila, Italy, was quite important and a great success in the sense that the leaders of the G-8, together with many partners, discussed in-depth major crisis issues, including food security and climate change.  On climate change, they have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and also to limit this global temperature rise within 2° C.  It was a commendable and an encouraging one.  I told them that, while I welcomed and commended their commitment, it was not sufficient, because any long-term commitment should be supported by mid-term targets.  Without mid-term targets, it would be very difficult to aim for 2050 targets.  Therefore, we have a clear and very concise mid-term road map.  This is what I told them at that time.  I continue to believe that they should have a mid-term target and I am going to continue this matter again with the leaders of G-8 and G-20 and most industrialized countries on that.  This climate change issue should be led by industrialized countries, considering [their] historical responsibilities.  This is what I will continue to do.

Question: [translated from French] I have a question Mr. Secretary-General, you talk very often about underdeveloped countries.  Looking at the case of Senegal, there is major flooding there at the moment and the President is on vacation.  I would like to know, concretely, does the UN nowadays have the force to impose the political will that you are requesting today, to try to impose it and how you can achieve that?  Second question, which is more important; we talk about adaptation for developing countries.  Do you think that today, with the crisis, developed countries would make the money available for these programmes to be successful?  I thank you.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you said in your speech that the problem is well known, you know what it is and you know the actions to take.  The declaration specifies a year and four months until everything would be settled in the form of a framework to move forward.  Isn’t that a long time for humanity when we know the dangers?

Secretary-General: Again, many countries have been experiencing extreme weather patterns, like flooding, long spells of drought, earthquakes.  This should not be taken for granted or taken as normal natural circumstances.  These are happening because of climate change.  We are now at a very crucially important moment to address all these issues.  On the political leadership to be exercised by the Government leaders, that will be the key at this time.  I believe we have resources, we have technology, we have finance -- all we are lacking is political will.  Now I would not comment on what each and every leader may do or may not take any action on these particular issues, but that depends on the national leaders.  What I am emphasizing is that, in this crucially important time, when we are suffering from multiple crises, they should now act as global leaders rather than national leaders.  I appreciate their national challenges, national agendas.  It may be very important.  They are sometimes very sensitive and conscious of their voters’ wish.  But leaders should be able to lead certain initiatives when they believe that it is something which they have to do, even despite domestic opinions.  This is what I am really appealing to world leaders.

Now we have less than four months, now three months and a half.  This is not enough.  That is why I am really trying to raise the sense of urgency.  We must act.  We must act now.  Action we will take now will be much less expensive than action we will take tomorrow.  As the Secretary-General, my role is to stimulate all the political leadership role among leaders.  It is up to the leaders who have to take action.  They have to agree in December.  Thank you very much for your support and I hope you will play a very important role in helping the Copenhagen deal and success.  Let us work together to seal the deal in Copenhagen.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.