Hundreds of people put on a performance, forming a human “SOS” symbol, asking for plans to preserve the Cheonsu Bay at the Sambong Beach in Taean, South Chungchong Province, as part of campaigns to save the environment from further pollution. / Korea Times file
By Ban Ki-moon
Twenty years ago, when world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit, 5.5 billion people inhabited our planet. Nearly half were living in extreme poverty.
Today, even with the global population exceeding 7 billion, the proportion is down to just over one quarter. Over the same period, food production has kept pace, so much so that were it distributed adequately, there would be enough to feed every person on Earth.
That is some of the good news. The bad news is that hunger and poverty are a daily burden for billions, and the environmental services on which human safety and well-being depend are under increasing pressure.
According to the latest “Global Environment Outlook” report, issued by the UN Environment Programme in June to coincide with the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, there has been significant progress on only four of ninety of the most important internationally agreed environmental goals.
The world continues on a dangerous path in which economic growth has been achieved at the expense of natural resources and ecosystems.
We can no longer continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity while avoiding responsibility for the effect of our actions on the planet and the future well-being of generations to come.
Climate change is an existential threat. Biodiversity loss is accelerating, desertification and land degradation are imperiling lives and incomes in all regions, and the marine environment is under assault from pollution to over-fishing. Deforestation and forest degradation will likely cost the global economy more than the losses in the 2008 financial crisis. Increasing urbanization is generating ever more waste, including e-waste and other hazardous byproducts of industrialization.
Combating climate change
To extend the benefits of progress to all – and to ensure that the gains we have made can be sustained – we need to change our development model, giving equal weight to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
Most urgently, we must combat climate change by meeting current pledges to keep increases in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do that, we must move decisively towards a low-carbon economy.
It is often claimed that moving in this direction will be too costly and disruptive. But the international community has already proven, through the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, that it can collaborate successfully to tackle such a challenge, with the benefits far exceeding the costs.
Phasing out polluting technologies
Scientists identified an urgent problem. Governments agreed on a legally binding approach to address it. The private sector came on board. Funding was made available for developing countries to phase out polluting technologies. The result is a drastic reduction in both the production and use of ozone-depleting substances. A catastrophe has been averted.
The example of the Montreal Protocol shows that where there is commitment and initiative, common solutions can be found to common problems. More reasons for optimism can be seen in the outcome of Rio+20.
Rio was the first step towards creating a new model for a 21st-century economy that rejects the myth that there must be a zero-sum trade-off between growth and the environment. Rio recognized that with smart public policies, governments can grow their economies, alleviate poverty, create decent jobs and accelerate social progress in a way that respects the earth’s finite natural resources.
The results in Rio can lead us to a more sustainable future. World leaders renewed and strengthened political commitment to sustainable development. Governments agreed to launch a process to establish universal Sustainable Development Goals, building on our advances under the Millennium Development Goals.
Sustainable consumption and production was endorsed, as was the potential of the green economy for poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental care. Doors were opened to help us to identify new financing for sustainable development.
Partnerships were strengthened among countries, businesses and civil society to promote initiatives on energy, food and nutrition, transport and oceans. More than 1,000 corporate leaders from all continents delivered a common message: business as usual no longer works.
Perhaps the most tangible legacy of Rio is that it galvanized action. More than 700 commitments were registered, and many of them will take us far towards the transformative change we are looking for. Among them is a commitment by eight multilateral banks, led by the Asian Development Bank, to shift $175 billion over the next decade to sustainable transport. More than $50 billion was committed by the private sector to my Sustainable Energy for All initiative – with tens of billions more from governments and other players pledged to the initiative and other energy programs. These commitments will benefit more than a billion people over the next two decades.
Energy is the golden thread that connects development, social inclusion and environmental protection. It literally brings light into people's lives, and generates hope and opportunity.
Our aim is to ensure universal access to modern energy services for the one in five people worldwide who lack them; to reduce energy waste by doubling energy efficiency; and to double the share of renewables in the global energy mix. The deadline is 2030. If we succeed we can raise people's well-being while helping to bring down the global thermostat.
When I was a child I knew energy poverty first-hand. I also knew hunger. In Rio, I launched the Zero Hunger Challenge. In a world of plenty, no-one should go hungry. This is my vision. All people should have access to nutrition year-round – those cannot buy or grow food should be able to receive it through a social safety net. No child should grow up stunted. Food systems should be sustainable, small farmers, especially women, should be empowered, and – from farm to market – food should never be wasted.
By 2030, we will need 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more freshwater – just to continue to live as we do today. These are major challenges. Rio helped to emphasize their scale and the urgency of addressing them.
But it also highlighted that we have the tools we need – from treaties to technology, from programs to partnerships. We have wasted too much time, too many opportunities. We must get to work. Let us use all the tools at our disposal to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity and preserve a healthy planet that can support the well-being of future generations.
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations. His priorities have been to mobilize world leaders around a set of new global challenges, from climate change and economic upheaval to pandemics and increasing pressures involving food, energy and water. He has sought to be a bridge-builder, to give voice to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to strengthen the organization itself.
Ban took office on Jan. 1, 2007. On June 21, 2011 he was unanimously re-elected by the General Assembly and will continue to serve until Dec. 31, 2016.
At the time of his election as secretary-general, Ban was his country's minister of foreign affairs and Trade. His 37 years of service with the Ministry included postings in New Delhi, Washington D.C. and Vienna, and responsibility for a variety of portfolios, including foreign policy adviser to the President, chief national security adviser to the President, deputy minister for policy planning and director-general of American Affairs.
Ban’s ties to the United Nations date back to 1975, when he worked for the Foreign Ministry’s United Nations Division. That work expanded over the years, with assignments that included service as chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization and Chef de Cabinet during the Republic of Korea’s 2001-2002 presidency of the UN General Assembly. Ban has also been actively involved in issues relating to inter-Korean relations.