Now is our time

If ever there were a time to act in a spirit of renewed multilateralism, a time to put the “united” back into the United Nations, it is now.

October 02, 2009 02:16 am | Updated 02:16 am IST

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to reporters during a news conference on September 29, 2009 at the United Nations headquarters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to reporters during a news conference on September 29, 2009 at the United Nations headquarters.

Every September, the world’s leaders gather at the United Nations to reaffirm our founding Charter — our faith in fundamental principles of peace, justice, human rights and equal opportunity for all. We assess the state of the world, engage on the key issues of the day, lay out our vision for the way ahead.

But this year is different. The 64th opening of the General Assembly asks us to rise to an exceptional moment. We are facing many crises — food, energy, recession and pandemic flu, hitting all at once. If ever there were a time to act in a spirit of renewed multilateralism, a time to put the”united” back into the United Nations, it is now. And that is what we are doing. Action on three issues of historic consequence show the way.

First, leaders of the world are uniting on the greatest challenge we face as a human family — the threat of catastrophic climate change. Last week, 101 leaders from 163 countries met to chart the next steps toward December’s all-important U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen. They recognised the need for an agreement all nations can embrace — in line with their capabilities, consistent with what science requires, grounded in “green jobs” and “green growth,” the lifeline of a 21st century global economy.

We at the U.N. prepared carefully for this moment. For two and a half years, ever since I became Secretary-General, we have worked to put climate change at the top of the global agenda. Today, we have entered a new phase. Last week’s summit sharply defined the issue and focused attention in capitals the world over. To be sure, the issues are complex and difficult, especially those of financing adaptation and mitigation efforts in poorer countries. Yet leaders left New York committed to clear and firm instructions for their negotiators: seal a deal in Copenhagen.

Japan issued a challenge, agreeing to cut emissions 25 percent by 2020 if other nations follow. President Hu Jintao spoke about all that China is already doing to reduce energy intensity and invest in “green” alternatives. He emphasised that China is prepared to do more under an international agreement, as did U.S. President Barack Obama. The road ahead requires more hard pushing. Negotiators gathered for another round of U.N. talks on September 28 in Bangkok, and we are considering a smaller meeting of major emitting and most vulnerable nations in November. We need a breakthrough in this make-or-break year.

We saw another turning point, on another issue of existential importance: nuclear disarmament. Finally, the assumption that such weapons are needed to keep the peace is crumbling. At a special summit called by the President of the United States, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that opens a new chapter in the U.N.’s efforts to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament. It raises prospects for an expansion of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, next May, and offers hope for bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force. It sets forth the initial contours of a legal framework for action against misuse of civilian nuclear technology for military purposes and reflects an emerging consensus, seen in meeting after meeting, that the time has come to increase pressure on nations failing to respect these principles.

Nations united on a third front, as well. Though some may speak of “turning the corner to recovery,” we see a new crisis emerging. According to our recent report, “Voices of the Vulnerable,” the near-poor are becoming the new poor. An estimated 100 million people could fall below the poverty line this year. Markets may be bouncing back, but incomes and jobs and incomes are not. That is why, earlier this year, the United Nations put forward a Global Jobs Pact for balanced and sustainable growth. It is also why we are creating a new Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System, giving us real-time data and analysis on the socio-economic picture around the world. We need to know precisely who is being hurt by the financial crisis, and where, so that we can best respond.

That is also why, next year at this time, we will convene a special summit on the Millennium Development Goals. We have only five years to meet the targets for health, education and human security that we set for 2015. At the various G20 summits over the past year, including the latest in Pittsburg, the U.N. has stood firm to speak and act for all those being left behind.

Rhetoric has always been abundant at the General Assembly, action sometimes less so. Yet listening to the world’s leaders speak, last week, I was struck by their passion, commitment and collective determination to turn a page from a past of countries divided by narrow interests to nations united in the cause of a global common good. From confronting climate change to creating a world without nuclear weapons to building a more equitable and sustainable global economy, I saw a sprit of renewed multilateralism with the United Nations at the fore. No nation alone can deal with any of these challenges. But as nations united, the United Nations can. — Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi

(The writer is Secretary-General of the United Nations.)

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