29 June 2006

Climate Change Film Popularity Shows People Are Concerned About Environment, "Hunger to Do Something about It", Says Secretary-General in Forum Remarks

NEW YORK, 28 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks to the Tällberg Forum, delivered through video link from New York to Tällberg, Sweden, on 28 June:


Thank you very much for this opportunity to join you by video link.

I was able to see only the last few minutes of your introduction.  But, I think it is fair to say that you have put on quite a show.  Maybe you should consider taking it on the road.  As you may know, here in the United States, former Vice President Al Gore's lecture and slide-show on climate change, called "An Inconvenient Truth", has become a best-selling book and popular movie across the country.  It is not every day that a lecture on a grim subject can compete with thrillers, comedies and love stories.  I think this shows that there is a real concern about the environment, and a real hunger to do something about it.  So, let me congratulate you on your heartfelt, illuminating talk, which I hope will be heard by more than just those of us fortunate enough to be together today.

It is a pleasure to be with you today, even if only by video link.  I know from past participation in the Tällberg Forum what a pleasant atmosphere it is, and most of all what rich discussions take place.  I would have liked to join you in person, but pressing matters kept me here in New York.

Indeed, I know you are all closely following the many burning issues that are on the agenda of the United Nations at the moment.

Two important new bodies have just begun work: the first is the Human Rights Council, offering a fresh start in that vital area; the second, the Peacebuilding Commission, will allow us to assist countries coming out of conflict in a much more effective manner.

We are engaged in diplomatic efforts to resolve the situations involving Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and working with the Iraqi authorities on reconciliation and reconstruction.

We are planning for a peacekeeping operation in Darfur, even as our humanitarian personnel continue to deliver much-needed assistance.

Our presence in Timor-Leste has just been extended in the aftermath of the recent unrest there.

The General Assembly is discussing the counter-terrorism strategy I set out last month, and is also conducting a review of all mandates older than five years to be sure we are doing the right things -- the things that matter to people today.

And we are pressing ahead with the reform effort.

So this is a busy time; a time of transformation and renewal; a period that is certainly revealing serious differences among Member States, but is also driving home, I hope, our essential interdependence and our need to work together in addressing cross-border issues -- issues which I have called "problems without passports".

One of the main challenges of this type is the energy-economy-environment equation, and I am very encouraged to know that you are focusing your attention on it today.  The links between these three issues are too often overlooked or downplayed.  And this has created real frustration, and even indignation, with many people feeling that, despite the serious environmental threats we face, leaders continue to be too economically defensive, and not politically courageous enough.

I sense that that may be changing.  Governments and businesses are coming to understand what scientists and the United Nations have been saying for quite some time: that the prevailing model of energy use is unsustainable, and that conservation, far from being a constraint on economic growth, is an absolute necessity for it.

Another important change in mindset is taking place as well.  For years, threats to peace and security tended to be defined rather strictly in terms of armed conflict and deadly weapons.  Today we know that human security is also threatened by poverty, infectious diseases and, yes, environmental degradation.  This broad definition of threats was one of the most important contributions of the high-level panel that I put together two years ago, in the aftermath of the international divisions over the Iraq war.  Its vision of security is helping the world address threats in a holistic manner, and is, I believe, beginning to bring environmental threats the high-level political attention they have long merited.

But, changing minds is only a prelude to changing lives on the ground.  And I know that there is tremendous frustration with the pace of progress -- a feeling that the people in charge -- whether Presidents, CEOs or the UN itself -- are either still getting it wrong, not getting it right at all, or getting it right far too slowly.

Speaking from the vantage point of the United Nations, I know that change can happen.  But, I also know that we need pressure, especially from civil society.  We can't leave it to Governments alone to tackle this challenge.  We need partnerships involving business, civil society, Governments, foundations, universities and others.  And individual people should not just shrug their shoulders and think they have no power.  As citizens, you do have power.  You have power through your vote.  And as consumers, you have power through your purchasing decisions.  So use that power to effective change.  That is what I have tried to do throughout my tenure, and what I hope my successor will do as well, since, when it comes to the environment, the next few years could well be crucial.

Let me stop there.  I know that President Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Khosla have thoughts they would like to share with us, and I want to leave time for discussion.

Thank you very much listening to me this morning.  And than you again for this opportunity.

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