UN Secretary-General's Press Conference at the outset of the 74th session of the General Assembly

U N I T E D   N A T I O N S                                    N A T I O N S   U N I E S






(full transcript)

New York, 18 September 2019


Good afternoon.

It is good to see you again as we begin a new session of the General Assembly.

The world is at a critical moment on several fronts – the climate emergency, rising inequality, an increase in hatred and intolerance, as well as an alarming number of peace and security challenges. Tensions are rising everywhere.

As I have often said, there is no doubt that our fraying world needs international cooperation more than ever.  But simply saying it will not make it happen.

The biggest challenge that leaders and institutions face is to show people we care – and to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s anxieties with answers.

The upcoming high-level week is designed to do precisely that.

There will be dozens of summits, meetings and side events.  But I can distil the significance of all these discussions into two words: ambition and action.

I see the high-level week as an excellent opportunity to showcase the United Nations as a centre for solutions and a driver for meaningful, positive change in people’s lives.  

Let’s face it.  We have no time to lose.

We are losing the race against climate change.

Our world is off-track in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

We see trade wars and real wars, and the spread of hateful words and deadly weapons.

Tensions are boiling over – and everyday people always pay the highest price.

This is the moment to cool tensions, and nowhere is that more important than in the Gulf.

This is also the time to promote dialogue and pave the way to political solutions from Libya to Yemen, from Syria to Israel-Palestine, from Afghanistan to South Sudan.

With the very high number of world leaders coming to the United Nations, we have a chance to advance diplomacy for peace.

I have emphasized that the high-level week should not be about technocratic discussions or fancy speeches.

Our overarching focus for our meetings next week will be sustainable and inclusive development, leaving no one behind.

We will spotlight climate change, which threatens everyone and everything.

It starts with the Youth Climate Summit on Saturday.  Young people are leading the debate and they are absolutely right to press us to do better and to “unite behind science”.

On Monday I will convene the Climate Action Summit.

I went to the Bahamas a few days ago.  The level of devastation was unlike anything I have ever seen.  Hurricane Dorian was indeed Hurricane Hell.  And, unfortunately, extreme weather events will only produce more hellscapes for more people.

That is what science has been telling us all along.

Once again, the imperative to act could not be more clear, and this is exactly why I am convening the Climate Action Summit.

I expect there will be an announcement and unveiling of a number of meaningful plans on dramatically reducing emissions during the next decade, and on reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

We will showcase promising initiatives aiming at moving away from coal, putting a price on carbon, stopping subsidies for fossil fuels, and cutting the pollution that damages our health.

And we will highlight the importance of scaling up nature-based solutions, creating cleaner ways in the way we work and societies function, building resilience, protecting people, mobilizing finance and promoting decent jobs for a just transition.

I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments.

The UN is already doing its part.

Just this morning, the UN Development Programme announced the Climate Promise initiative to boost our commitment to support 100 countries in enhancing their national pledges under the Paris Agreement by 2020.

Also today – along with the International Labour Organization and partners Spain and Peru – we are launching the Climate Action for Jobs, an initiative to put job creation and protecting livelihoods at the centre of national climate action plans.

Some 1.2 billion jobs or 40 per cent of world employment rely directly on a healthy and stable environment.  Business cannot succeed on a planet that fails. Jobs cannot be sustained on a dying planet.

And there are many more initiatives to come.  They will all be presented at the Summit and are designed to be expanded, so they can have the global impact the climate crisis demands.

We will need government, businesses and people everywhere to join these efforts so we can put climate action into a higher gear.

We also need to step up our drive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

On Tuesday, leaders will gather to focus on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and we will launch a Decade of Action to deliver results.

And we must look ahead not through the prism of the economy of the last decade, but the economy of the next decade, seizing the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but also safeguarding against its dangers.

The high-level week will also feature meetings on universal health coverage, the challenges facing small island states and mobilizing financing to meet the needs of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We will host a wide range of meetings on peace and security challenges, too.

Through it all, my message to world leaders will be simple:

Put people first.  Their needs.  Their aspirations.  Their rights.

People want solutions, commitments and action.

And I suspect that we will hear [this message] loud and clear from young people over the weekend.

We simply must translate all of the events of the coming days into an impulse and momentum to do more, starting immediately, and with people at the centre.


Thank you.

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