- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009


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 and 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 was 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 shows the way.

First, leaders of the world are uniting for 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 recognized 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 United Nations prepared carefully for this moment. For 2 1/2 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 doing already to reduce energy intensity and invest in green alternatives. He emphasized that China is prepared to do more under an international agreement, as did President Obama. The road ahead requires more hard pushing.

Negotiators will gather for another round of U.N. talks Monday 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 Mr. Obama, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that opens a new chapter in U.N. efforts to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

It raises prospects for an expansion of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 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 are 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 also is why we are creating a new Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System, giving us real-time data and analysis on the socioeconomic 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 also is why, next year at this time, we will convene a special summit on the Millennium Development Goals. We have just five years to meet the targets for health, education and human security that we set for 2015. At the various Group of 20 summits of the leading 20 economic countries over the past year, including the latest in Pittsburgh, the United Nations has spoken and acted firmly 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 spirit of renewed multilateralism with the United Nations at the fore. No nation alone can deal with any of these challenges. As nations united, the United Nations can.

Ban Ki-moon is secretary-general of the United Nations.

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