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UN Conference Affressed by Deputy Secretary-General

Deputy Secretary-General

——————————————————————————–Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General

——————————————————————————–Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Deputy Secretary-General, in New York address, urges non-governmental organizations to build grass-roots support for ‘breakthrough’ climate change agreement Following is Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s address to the opening session of the sixtieth annual DPI/NGO [Department of Public Information/ Non-Governmental Organizations] Conference in New York, 5 September:
Welcome to the United Nations. I am honoured and indeed delighted to join you for the opening session of the sixtieth annual DPI/NGO Conference for the first time, as you have said, since I took office as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Let me also convey the Secretary-General’s warm greetings to all of you. He had hoped to be here today. However, official duties have kept him away from New York. Currently, he is in the Sudan to build further progress towards peace in Darfur and in the country as a whole.

Of course, even from afar, I know he shares my own joy at the presence of so many NGO and civil society representatives gathered in this hall. This gathering is a wonderful illustration of the strong ties binding our Organization to global civil society. These ties date back to the earliest days of the United Nations. But only in recent years have they truly come of age.

This has been possible because of a deliberate and sustained outreach effort on both our parts. But it also reflects the greatly expanded role of civil society organizations on the world stage. From development to human rights, peace and security to humanitarian assistance, you have always taken a lead in mobilizing public opinion on the leading challenges of our time. Now, however, you are also ever more engaged in designing and implementing solutions at every level, from the local to the intergovernmental.

That is why today’s UN relies on its partnership with the NGO community in virtually everything it does. Whether it is peacebuilding in sub-Saharan Africa or human rights in Latin America, disaster assistance in the Caribbean or demining efforts in the Middle East, the UN depends upon the advocacy skills, creative resources and grass-roots reach of civil society organizations in all our work.

One area where our partnership is increasingly vital relates to the global challenge posed by climate change. NGOs have historically been at the forefront of the struggle to draw attention to the environment, and to push for action to protect it.

Now, this grave challenge is beginning to receive the very highest attention it merits. The recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have settled the basic science, and silenced any lingering doubters. The Panel’s report has unequivocally confirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity.

The effects of climate change are already visible. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. The resultant melting threatens the region’s people and ecosystems, but it also imperils low-lying islands and coastal cities half a world away. On the other hand, as glaciers retreat, water supplies are being put at risk. And for one-third of the world’s population living in dry lands, especially those in my home continent Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.

How we address this threat carries grave implications for our future, and that of our planet.

At the same time, this challenge also presents a remarkable opportunity — an opportunity to define a new, more sustainable development process; an opportunity to encourage new kinds of cleaner and sustainable businesses, industries and jobs; an opportunity to make better and more intelligent use of scarce natural resources; and an opportunity to reinvest in our depleted natural capital, from forests to freshwaters, and from soils to biodiversity.

In short, combating climate change presents an opportunity to break with the past, to look anew at the way we operate, the way we do business and the way we relate to each other, now and in the future.

These changes will not all prove painless. But their discomfort is outweighed — many times over — by the cost of not acting. And, in fact, the IPCC report suggests that it will not cost us the moon to save the Earth — we may need perhaps as little as 0.1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually for the next three decades, if we start to act now.

The Secretary-General has identified climate change as one of his top priorities since his very first days in office. Both he and I strongly believe that this is just the kind of global challenge the UN is best suited to address.

But we also understand that this is not a challenge for the UN alone. Confronting it requires a truly global effort; an effort that draws together Governments, the private sector and civil society in one sustained push for change.

Already, many welcome measures are being implemented. The European Union has agreed to a 20 per cent emission reduction target, which will rise to 30 per cent if other countries follow suit. The Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in Germany has affirmed the ongoing UN climate change process. And across the world, the private sector is adapting to climate change. It is demanding that Governments and the UN deliver an international agreement to address this issue. Businesses appear eager to do their part if the ground rules are clear and comprehensive. The agreement reached at last week’s talks in Vienna also augurs well for progress at Bali.

Developing countries are acting, too. In Brazil, efforts to counter deforestation in the Amazon have shown positive results. China has recommitted itself to reduce its energy intensity by 20 per cent. India’s Prime Minister has ordered a review of his country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations has no intention of lagging behind on this front. We are currently taking steps to make the Organization carbon neutral. And we expect the refurbishment of our Headquarters in New York will make it a model of energy efficiency and environmental-friendliness.

In just over two weeks, the Secretary-General will host a High-Level Event on Climate Change here in New York. He has consulted widely with various political figures, civil society representatives and business leaders in an effort to build political momentum ahead of upcoming negotiations under the UN Framework Convention in Bali this December. To advance this effort, he has also appointed three distinguished Special Envoys on Climate Change. These initiatives will only succeed through sustained and broad-based engagement. I, therefore, urge all of you to redouble your efforts to raise public awareness on this subject.

In particular, you can build grass-roots support for a breakthrough in Bali. And you can also help push for the “quick wins” that can fast be implemented by almost all countries. For instance, Cuba, Venezuela and now the European Union, Australia and several other countries have pledged to phase out old incandescent light bulbs in favour of compact fluorescent lights. Let us all push for such initiatives in our countries and our communities.

Our ultimate goal has to be a comprehensive agreement under the UNFCCC process. Such an agreement must tackle climate change on all fronts, including adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization. We must all encourage our leaders to reach this agreement by 2009, and to have it in force by the expiry of the current Kyoto protocol commitment period in 2012.

This is the challenge before us. If we succeed — as we must — we will not only change the world, we will save it.

In that spirit, let me wish you a most successful conference.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.

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