Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today opened the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate by urging world leaders to rise to the “challenge of global leadership” and 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.
In these two weeks when world leaders flock to the UN, Mr. Ban meets presidents and prime ministers, kings and king-makers – he cajoles, exhorts and advocates tirelessly. He is armed with the power of persuasion, moral authority and a document that is his Magna Carta, the UN Charter.
“Our challenges are increasingly those of collaboration rather than confrontation,” Mr. Ban declared in a wide-ranging speech before dozens of heads of State and government gathered at UN Headquarters in New York. “Nations can no longer protect their interests, or advance the well-being of their people, without the partnership of the rest.”
But he warned there were signs that many leaders and countries were unwilling to take up the mantle of doing more, not less, to help those around the world who need support, despite the scale of some of the crises.
“I see a danger of nations looking more inward, rather than towards a shared future. 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 centres 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, Mr. Ban said, 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 honour our pledges and our promises in the face of fiscal constraints and political opposition. It takes leadership to commit our soldiers to a cause of peace in faraway places.
“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… that is why we are here.”
On Thursday, world leaders will discuss how to accelerate progress towards the eight globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which aim to slash a host of social and economic ills – by their target date of 2015.
Mr. Ban said leaders should be “bold and specific” in spelling out what they will do to achieve the MDGs, given that his most recent report on the issue shows that sub-Saharan Africa is especially lagging in the race to meet the Goals.
“We must galvanize global awareness and global action, with a special focus on Africa. As you know, progress has been uneven. Pledges have not been fully honoured. Yet we have achieved enough to know the Goals are within reach.”
Mr. Ban stressed that the UN was at the forefront of international efforts to resolve or reduce all of the world’s biggest problems.
“The United Nations is the champion of the most vulnerable. When disaster strikes, we act,” he said, citing the recent series of deadly hurricanes in Haiti and the wider Caribbean, relief efforts in Myanmar in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and ongoing aid operations in the Horn of Africa, where millions of people have been hit by drought.
The Organization led the way this year on responding to the global food crisis, he added, establishing a task force to devise long-term solutions and at the same time ensuring that seeds and fertilizers reach the hands of small farmers in struggling countries.
In addition, the power of the UN’s good offices has been put to diplomatic use, bearing fruit already in Nepal and Kenya and helping to defuse other conflicts and crises, such as in Cyprus, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe.
The Secretary-General’s appeal for global leadership echoed one of the key themes of the recent meeting of top UN aides in Turin, Italy, where he noted that the UN is being sought out more than ever before to deal with the world’s biggest problems. “We can no longer do business as usual,” in his words.
He has reiterated that if the UN is to carry out its mandated tasks, it needs to be given the necessary resources – especially in peacekeeping operations. And, above all, he has made internal reform of the Organization a personal priority.
The Secretary-General, who is holding bilateral discussions with numerous world leaders on the sidelines of the Assembly general debate this week, flagged that in the weeks ahead he will seek their support for a new human resources framework at the UN.
“We need to replace our current system of contracts and conditions of service. It is dysfunctional. It is demoralizing. It discourages mobility between UN departments and the field. It promotes stagnation, rather than creativity. It undercuts our most precious resource – the global, dedicated corps of international civil servants that is the backbone of the UN.”