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UN General Assembly Opens With Climate and Energy Concerns

NEW YORK, New York, September 23, 2008 (ENS) – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today opened the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate by urging world leaders to work together to solve the most pressing and intractable problems, from climate change and the energy crisis to entrenched poverty and the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

But he warned of signs that many leaders and countries are unwilling to do more to help those around the world who need support, despite the scale of some of the crises.


UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon
addresses the General Assembly (Photo
by Marco Castro courtesy UN)

“I see a danger of nations looking more inward, rather than towards a shared future,” Ban said. “I see a danger of retreating from the progress we have made, particularly in the realm of development and more equitably sharing the fruits of global growth.”

As new centers of power and leadership are emerging in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere in the newly developed world, “We are on the eve of a great transition,” he said.

Wise leadership is vital if the world is to regain the momentum on climate change produced by negotiations in Bali last year, combat malaria and HIV/AIDS or ensure that human rights are upheld and the principle of “responsibility to protect” is extended to all vulnerable populations.

“It takes leadership to speak out for justice; to act on climate change despite powerful voices against you; to stand against protectionism and make trade concessions, even in our enlightened self-interest. Yet,” said Ban, “that is why we are here.”

Nearly 120 heads of state or government are in attendance for today’s opening of the high-level segment of the General Assembly, and representatives of all 192 UN member states are expected to address the General Assembly over the next two weeks.

Addressing the General Assembly today, U.S. President George W. Bush focused on combating terrorism and made no mention of the environment or of urgent environmental issues such as climate change, energy supplies and clean water.


U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the
General Assembly. (Photo by Chris
Greenberg courtesy The White House)

“In the decades ahead, the United Nations and other multilateral organizations must continually confront terror,” said President Bush in his last address to the General Assembly as president. “This mission requires clarity of vision. We must see the terrorists for what they are: ruthless extremists who exploit the desperate, subvert the tenets of a great religion, and seek to impose their will on as many people as possible.”

“Like slavery and piracy, terrorism has no place in the modern world,” Bush declared.

The United Nations is an organization of extraordinary potential,” said Bush. “With determination and clear purpose, the United Nations can be a powerful force for good as we head into the 21st century. It can affirm the great promise of its founding.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the General Assembly today that the membership of the Security Council and other key international institutions must be urgently broadened if the world is to overcome its most acute crises.

“Enlarging the Security Council and the G-8 [Group of Eight industrialized nations] is not just a matter of fairness; it is also the necessary condition for being able to act effectively,” said Sarkozy, who spoke on behalf of both France and the 27-member European Union, whose rotating presidency his country currently holds.


French President Nicholas Sarkozy (Photo
by Marco Castro courtesy UN)

“We cannot wait any longer to enlarge the Security Council. We cannot wait any longer to turn the G-8 into the G-13 or G-14, and to bring in China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil,” he said.

Earlier this month the General Assembly adopted a decision to begin intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform in an informal session by February 2009.

Sarkozy warned that on all major issues, including efforts to combat climate change, “We have a duty to act, not endure.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reminded the General Assembly that now long-predicted economic crises have become “today’s harsh reality.”

He stressed that the world is facing many other “equally serious matters,” including the food crisis, the spike in energy prices, and the continuing degradation of the environment.

President Lula said Brazil’s own experience illustrates that sugar cane ethanol and biodiesel production can reduce global dependency on fossil fuels and at the same time create jobs, regenerate degraded land and expand food production.


President of the General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto
Brockmann, left, meets with President of
Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (Photo
by Mark Garten courtesy UN)

“Attempts to tie high food prices to the dissemination of biofuels do not stand up to an objective analysis of reality,” he added, calling for a multilateral approach to solve the food and energy crises.

In his first speech as President of the General Assembly, Reverend Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, called on world leaders to “choose the path of solidarity” to overturn what he described as a culture of selfishness that allowed millions of people worldwide to suffer in poverty or as a result of other man-made problems.

“If we are to seize the opportunities, we must move beyond lamentations, speech-making and statements of good intentions and take concrete action based on a firm resolve to replace the individualism and selfishness of the dominant culture with human solidarity as the golden rule that guides our behavior,” he said.

Born in Los Angeles, California on February 5, 1933, d’Escoto is a Nicaraguan diplomat, politician and Catholic priest.

D’Escoto warned that the world is in danger of drowning in a “morass of maniacal, suicidal selfishness,” causing problems as diverse as a lack of access to clean water, human trafficking, the arms build-up and gender inequalities.

“The world has reached a point at which we have no alternative,” said d’Escoto. “Either we love one another or we all perish; either we treat each other as brothers and sisters or we witness the beginning of the end of our human species. If we choose the path of solidarity, recognizing each other as brothers and sisters, we will open up new horizons of life and hope for everyone.”

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