Now Is The Time: We must find a global response to this most global of problems

The lines were drawn as the industrialized nations of the Group of Eight gathered in Heiligendamm, Germany on 6 June 2007. The forces mustered to fight global warming were divided into competing camps.

Germany and the United Kingdom sought urgent talks on a new climate change treaty, to go into effect when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.They spoke of stiff measures to curb carbon emissions and limit the rise in global temperatures to 2˚ Celsius over the coming four decades. The United States, offering an initiative of its own, opposed what it considers to be arbitrary targets and timetables.

As I travelled to Heiligendamm that day, my chief concern was to ensure that all these different and potentially conflicting initiatives come together in a multilateral process within the United Nations framework. And that is precisely what was achieved at the summit. The eight Governments agreed that the United Nations climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action, accepted their responsibility to act on emission reductions and eventual cuts, and called for closure by 2009 on a global agreement, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to ensure that there is no gap between future approaches to climate change and the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

With this breakthrough, the Group of Eight recognized that certain basic facts are beyond dispute. First, the science is clear. The earth's warming is unequivocal; we humans are its principal cause. Every day brings new evidence, whether it is the latest report on retreating glaciers or the recent discovery that the Antarctic Ocean can no longer absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). Think of that: the world's largest carbon trap, filled to capacity.

Second, the time for action is now. The cost of not acting, most economists agree, will exceed the cost of acting early, probably by several orders of magnitude. The damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans may or may not have something to do with global warming, but it is a useful caution nonetheless on the financial and social perils of delay. It is equally evident that we can no longer afford to endlessly parse our options. Global greenhouse gas emissions have to start to come down. Carbon-trading is but one weapon in our arsenal, even if it does range among the most effective policy solutions. New technologies, energy conservation, forestry projects and renewable fuels, as well as private markets, must all be part of a long-term strategy. Yet, even the most rigorous mitigation efforts today will be unable to prevent all climate changes in the future, since changes in the climate occur only after a long time lag. Current global warming is the consequence of greenhouse gases having been emitted over decades. What is worrying is that this process is accelerating.

There is a third fact -- as I see it, the most important of all. That is a basic issue of equity -- a question of values, ranking among the great moral imperatives of our era. Global warming affects us all, yet it affects us all differently. Wealthy nations possess the resources and know-how to adapt. An African farmer losing crops or herds to drought and dust storms, or a Tuvalu islander worried that his village might soon be under water, is infinitely more vulnerable. Large-scale adaptation and its funding -- on the order of billions of dollars a year -- to manage climate change impacts is essential, particularly in the developing world. The carbon market has the potential to deliver much of what is needed in the way of funding. How would we achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving world poverty if the developing world's aspirations for a greater stake in global prosperity are not honoured?

A sense of human dimension should govern any issue which we peoples of the world must face together, climate change included. I consider it a duty, an extension of the sacred obligation, to protect that is the foundation of the United Nations.

In a discussion in the Security Council in April 2007, the representative of Namibia spoke out on his perception of the dangers of climate change. "This is no academic exercise", he stated. "It is a matter of life or death for my country." He told of how the Namib and Kalahari deserts are expanding, destroying farmland and rendering whole regions uninhabitable. This made me think of my own country, Korea, more and more often choked by dust storms swirling across the Yellow Sea from the expanding Gobi Desert. Malaria has spread to areas where it was once unknown, the Namibian representative went on. Species of plants and animals are dying out, in a land famed for its biodiversity. Developing countries like his own are increasingly subject to what he likened to "low-intensity biological or chemical warfare".

These are strong emotions, drawn from life and not imagined. For those in the developed world, it is important to hear and to act accordingly. For the entire world, it is important to come together to address this issue now. To build on the current positive momentum and to underline the need for early action, I am convening a high-level meeting on climate change in New York on 24 September 2007, in conjunction with the beginning of the General Assembly. I hope the leaders there will send a message to the Bali negotiations in December under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: business as usual is no longer an option, and concrete agreements must be reached soon. In my consultations with Member States, I am assisted by three special envoys, established international personalities who approach leaders on my behalf about the scope of the United Nations role. I intend to continue to act as a catalyst and facilitator of a global response to this most global of problems.

Climate change, and how we address it, will define us, our era and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations. It is time for new thinking, and a new inclusiveness. Leaders need to accept their responsibilities, but look less at their responsibility to their ancestors, and more to their responsibility to their grandchildren. The United Nations is a big part of the solution, and I will do all I can to ensure we play our role to the full.