Addiction is a terrible thing.
It consumes and controls us, makes us deny important
truths and blinds us to the consequences of our
actions. Our world is in the grip of a dangerous
Coal and oil paved the way for the developed
world’s industrial progress. Fast-developing
countries are now taking the same path in search
of equal living standards. Meanwhile, in the least
developed countries, even less sustainable energy
sources, such as charcoal, remain the only available
option for the poor.
Our dependence on carbon-based energy has caused
a significant build-up of greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere. Last year, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put
the final nail in the coffin of global warming
sceptics. We know that climate change is happening,
and we know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse
gases that we emit are the cause.
We don’t just burn carbon in the form of
fossil fuels. Throughout the tropics, valuable
forests are being felled for timber and making
paper, for pasture and arable land and, increasingly,
for plantations to supply a growing demand for
biofuels. This further manifestation of our carbon
habit not only releases vast amounts of CO2;
it also destroys a valuable resource for absorbing
atmospheric carbon, further contributing to climate
The environmental, economic and political implications
of global warming are profound. Ecosystems --
from mountain to ocean, from the Poles to the
tropics -- are undergoing rapid change. Low-lying
cities face inundation, fertile lands are turning
to desert, and weather patterns are becoming ever
The cost will be borne by all. The poor will
be hardest hit by weather-related disasters and
by soaring price inflation for staple foods, but
even the richest nations face the prospect of
economic recession and a world in conflict over
diminishing resources. Mitigating climate change,
eradicating poverty and promoting economic and
political stability all demand the same solution:
we must kick the carbon habit. This is the theme
for World Environment Day 2008. “Kick the
Habit: Towards a Low Carbon Economy”, recognizes
the damaging extent of our addiction, and it shows
the way forward.
Often we need a crisis to wake us to reality.
With the climate crisis upon us, businesses and
governments are realizing that, far from costing
the Earth, addressing global warming can actually
save money and invigorate economies. While the
estimated costs of climate change are incalculable,
the price tag for fighting it may be less than
any of us may have thought. Some estimates put
the cost at less than one per cent of global gross
domestic product -- a cheap price indeed for waging
a global war.
Even better news is that technologies already
exist are under development to make our consumption
of carbon-based fuels cleaner and more efficient
and to harness the renewable power of sun, wind
and waves. The private sector, in particular,
is competing to capitalize on what they recognize
as a massive business opportunity.
Around the world, nations, cities, organizations
and businesses are looking afresh at green options.
At the United Nations, I have instructed that
the plan for renovating our New York headquarters
should follow strict environmental guidelines.
I have also asked the chief executives of all
UN programmes, funds and specialized agencies
to move swiftly towards carbon neutrality.
Earlier this year, the UN Environment Programme
launched a climate neutral network -- CN Net --
to energize this growing trend. Its inaugural
members, which include countries, cities and companies,
are pioneers in a movement that I believe will
increasingly define environmental, economic and
political discourse and decision making over the
The message of World Environment Day 2008 is
that we are all part of the solution. Whether
you are an individual, an organization, a business
or a government, there are many steps you can
take to reduce your carbon footprint. This message
we all must take to heart.