Athens , 24 September 2007
EMBARGO 17:00 N.Y. time
“The Future is in Our Hands:
Addressing the Leadership Challenge of Climate Change”
Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the United Nations and the General Secretary for organizing this conference and to extend my heartfelt congratulations.
There has been a great deal of procrastination where climate change is concerned. For too long we have been consumed by unreasonable doubts and postponed an effective response to this unique global challenge. For too long climate change was approached as ‘an abstract phenomenon’ – understood by scientists, scorned by ill-advised skeptics, downplayed by vested interests and ignored by myopic political systems. Today time is running out.
If current predictions are accurate, the deterioration of our environment due to climate change is one of the greatest social and economic realities facing our planet. And most of its consequences within the next few decades will occur no matter what we decide to do today to mitigate the problem of emissions. There are two time lags involved here. One is the time lag between policy decisions and policy implementation. The second time lag is inherent to the phenomenon itself, as the scientists predict that oceans have stored most of the heating that occurred in the last 40 years and are going to gradually release it, in the next few decades.
So our responsibility is not only to find the political will for an effective global policy to stabilise emissions, but also to face the challenges our past actions are already producing. And we must realise that, climate change can no longer be seen as an environmental issue – in isolation. It is not solely a matter of environmental consciousness. It is not even, merely, an environmental imperative. It is an all-encompassing threat. And it must be approached as such.
It is a question of ethics and human rights. A question of human security and a possible cause of major future conflicts. A question of sustainable Economic development. It is also and a threat to world health. In consequence, it must be tackled more broadly to include socio-political dynamics which are unavoidably necessary if we are to have a holistic approach.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I come here today, on the back of a very real human, environmental, and economic tragedy witnessed by my country only a month ago.
Greece, like other southern European countries went through trying times this summer. As predicted in the IPCC fourth assessment report & the Stern review, raging wildfires menaced the region and in Greece claimed the life of over 65 people. They burnt over the houses and livelihoods of thousands of people. Destroyed wildlife and acres upon acres of forest. Greeks, and the entire world, looked upon the unfolding fires with disbelief – numb. For we all know now that an environmental disaster in one place – be it in the Americas, Asia, Oceania, Africa, or Europe – impacts every corner of the globe.
Our government reacted to the best of our abilities, in order to confront the tragedy and minimise its ramifications. Foreign help was also generously offered by our friends and partners. And we are deeply grateful to them.
The environment is, for us, an utmost priority, and I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that the Greek government will do everything it can to restore the damage.
The unexpected extent of the mobilization of fire fighting resources by our European partners and our friends in the international community bears, however, a positive message for the future. We are about to face more and more climate change induced disasters in the years to come, on a scale that no country –even the most powerful- can adequately prepare for. It is important to, now, that the political will and the resources exist for pulling together assets from many countries, to face this challenge. And it is crucial that we discuss how this international effort can be achieved more efficiently, using in a complimentary, and coherent way, all the tools the international system can offer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having had a recent, painful experience of the catastrophic potential of climate change, Greece believes that the world leaders assembled here today must send a strong message to negotiators at Bali, on the utmost urgency of achieving a global agreement on mitigation. By unilaterally adopting new restrictions on emissions, the European Union is paving the way for a brave response by the whole of developed world in these negotiations. This can pave the way for further fair and necessary contributions by the emerging economies.
Mitigation itself, though, is not enough; and adaptation is not only a local or national necessity. It also encompasses a crucial responsibility of the international community, towards the least developed countries and the small island states that have the least contribution to the problem, and will bear the immediate and heaviest burden. People there live in vulnerable regions, in fragile economic, social and environmental conditions and lack the adaptive capacity to deal with the perils brought by climate change.
This is why Greece currently holding the Chairmanship of the Human Security Network this year, decided to focus on the impacts of climate change on human security, in vulnerable regions and for vulnerable groups of people, especially women, children and persons fleeing their homes due to climate change.
This is why we believe that development assistance from the developed world should be revisited and re-panned, so as to take into consideration the impacts of climate change in the least developed countries.
This is why we join our voice with those declaring that climate change threats make the millennium development goals all the more difficult to attain and their achievement needs an urgent mobilization of all our efforts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Overabundance has carried with it a series of ‘by-products’ which irrevocably threaten our planet and our societies. The time has come to encourage people in the developed world to make a lifestyle shift. This is not an easy task. The difficulties associated with lifestyle shifts are many precisely because they involve a change of our daily mindset. And as we know, changing mindsets takes time, effort, zeal, and commitment.
At the same time, there is also some room for optimism. The world today is more convinced of the pressing urgency of dealing with climate change. The public is more aware of the imminent threats, and is gradually becoming more sensitive about safeguarding our environment.
The concern is real.
The will is genuine.
Now, more coordinated action is needed.
I trust we shall soon have it.
Thank you for your attention.