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At General Assembly Opening Ban Calls on Leaders to Unite to Combat Climate Change Humanity's Greatest Challenge
23/ 09/ 2009

At General Assembly Opening Ban Calls on Leaders to Unite to Combat Climate Change Humanity's Greatest ChallengeNew York, 23 September 2009 - The world's most pressing challenges can only be solved when countries unite through the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told dozens of world leaders gathered for the opening of the General Assembly's annual high-level meeting in New York on Wednesday.

"Now is our time. A time to put the 'united' back into the United Nations," Mr. Ban emphasized, calling for the international community to be both united in purpose and in action.

He spotlighted the need for joint efforts on issues ranging from climate change and disarmament to ensuring that the world's poorest people are not left behind by efforts to deal with the economic crisis.

The threat posed by climate change is the greatest challenge faced by humanity, he said, appealing for united global efforts to tackle the problem ahead of this December's conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where negotiations on an ambitious new agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions is set to wrap up.

Tuesday's summit at UN Headquarters in New York was the largest ever on climate change, with more than 100 heads of State and government in attendance.

In addition to heads of State, civil society groups and young people around the world had their voices heard when Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai and UNEP Youth Advisor, Yugratna Srivastava (thirteen), addressed the summit on behalf of their respective constituencies.

The Summit took place just under 80 days before the start of the Copenhagen conference, where nations are aiming to wrap up negotiations on an ambitious new agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions that would go into effect in 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period expires.

At the Opening of the Summit, the Secretary General, who visited the Arctic ice rim earlier this month and saw first-hand the rapid impact of climate change, expressed regret over the "glacial" speed of negotiations and urged leaders to take "the long view" to meet their people's needs.

"Climate change is the pre-eminent geopolitical and economic issue of the 21st century," he stressed. "It rewrites the global equation for development, peace and security."

The Secretary-General countered claims that addressing global warming comes at too high a price tag.

"They are wrong," he said. "The opposite is true. We will pay an unacceptable price if we do not act now."

He urged developed nations to take the first steps forward, with developing nations also needing to make strides. "All countries must do more - now."

Success in Copenhagen will require all nations working in concert to limit global temperature rise, as well as boost the world's ability to cope with changes set in motion by climate change.

Any deal reached in the Danish capital must "provide comprehensive support to the most vulnerable" who have contributed least to the crisis but are suffering the most, Mr. Ban underscored.

Financing is also a crucial component, as well as the establishment of an equitable global governance structure addressing developing countries' needs.

Not 'sealing the deal' in Copenhagen would be "morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise," the Secretary-General said.

A new climate pact has the potential to help 'green' global economic growth and lift billions out of poverty, as well as boosting cooperation on trade, energy, security and health issues, he added.

President Barack Obama of the United States, President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives, President Hu Jintao of China, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden, President Óscar Arias Sánchez of Costa Rica, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France spoke at the opening session of Tuesday's gathering.

Also addressing that session was Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning of the dangers of inaction on climate change.

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and Founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, addressed the opening plenary session of the Summit on Climate Change, representing the voice of civil society. She said, "It is only ten weeks before Copenhagen, We, the Peoples of the World, the people you lead, are here to encourage you, to support you and to urge you to secure in Copenhagen for a fair, ambitious, binding, life saving, inspiring deal. I am very confident that all of you will personally go to Copenhagen, and for all the six billion people on Earth, seal a good deal."

Yugratna Srivastava, thirteen-year-old Junior-Board representative from India for the Asia-Pacific branch of the UN Environmental Programme youth initiative Tunza, addressed the opening plenary session on behalf of youth. She said, "We need to call for an action now. Please listen to our voices. The future needs strong vision and leadership!"

She added, "One month ago, we had a TUNZA International Children and Youth Conference in Korea. The 800 participants and several thousands online developed a statement requesting you as leaders to agree on a more fair, just and action oriented post-Kyoto agreement adopted and implemented by all countries."

In August, the largest-ever youth climate change conference, organized by UNEP, was held in the Republic of Korea, with the 800 young participants pledging to plough ahead with efforts to ensure that global warming remains an international priority.

During the conference, young people agreed on regional action plans calling for definitive action on climate change.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director emphasized the importance of engaging young people in decision-making process, "The young people of the world are the generation that will inherit the transformational decisions governments need to take." he said.

He added, "If their passion, commitment and ideas can be embraced by world leaders and governments over the coming days and weeks, then a climate agreement that can puts the world on track to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy can be secured."

Yugratna is the youngest representative to address the summit. Her increasing environmental activism in her native Shamli, India, as a member of "Tarumitra" (Friends of Trees), a non-governmental organization that works towards protecting trees and forests, brought her to the attention of UNEP and now to the world, following her address at the UN Summit.

Convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Summit aimed at mobilizing the highest level political will needed to reach a fair, effective, and scientifically ambitious global climate deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Further Resources
Webcast of the UN Summit
Photographs from the Summit
Including high resolution downloads
Sign the Climate Petition
The UN Campaign on Climate Change "Seal the Deal!"
Photo-journal
Ban Ki-moon sees first-hand impact of climate change at polar ice cap
UNEP TUNZA Programme
Children and Youth
Summit on Climate Change Official site
Photo Gallery
UNEP Youth Representative, Yugratna Srivastava at UN Summit
Ban Ki-moon's Remarks to United Nations Leadership Forum on Climate Change
Report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the General Assembly
Ban Ki-moon's Opening remarks to the United Nations Climate Change Summit Plenary
UNEP Youth Representative, Yugratna Srivastava's Speech at UN Summit