Transcript: U.N. Leader Talks Global Warming on ABC News' 'Nature's Edge'

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke with ABC News' Bill Blakemore at U.N. headquarters in New York shortly before Ban presided over the largest-ever gathering of world leaders to address global warming. The following is a full transcript of their interview, with slight edits removing incidental comments about aircraft noise overhead:

BILL BLAKEMORE (BB): Secretary General, thank you for honoring us with this inaugural interview on Nature's Edge and ABC News Now.

SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI-MOON (SG): It's a great pleasure to be with you.

BB: Thank you very much.

BB: How serious a crisis do you think this is, global warming?

SG: The science has made it quite clear. The impact has been felt seriously all around the world. We have resources, we have technologies. We must address this issue. This is a global challenge, thus requires global action. Now only lacking largely is a political will. At the level of leaders, we must generate a strong political will. This is the main purpose of my convening high level dialect on climate change on September 24.

BB: Some of the scientists, a growing number of them, are writing books and saying in public that they believe this crisis is so serious, that if we go on with business as usual, it could seriously lead to the collapse of civilization even in the lifetime of today's children. Do you think this is accurate? Do think it is possibly this serious?

SG: I think that is a correct assessment. People say that action should have been taken yesterday. If we take action today, it may not be too late. We may be able to address. We have resources. We have technology. If we solidify political will, we can deliver this earth planet to our future generations in a more hospitable and environmentally sustainable world. The leaders of this era must feel the great historic responsibility for entire human being. This is an issue effecting entire human being, regardless where you are from, developing or industrialized countries. We must pool the resources and wisdom all together. A common action is needed now. Time is of essence.

BB: Before we discuss the specific role of the UN, what do you hope your role, the Secretarys General's role, will be as we see the temperature go up for the next few years?

SG: My role as Secretary General is to generate the political will, raising the awareness of the urgency. I think I have been successful in raising the awareness and urgency of this issue. In that regard, I am encouraged. But what is necessary from now on, we must give clear and focused and credible and very strong guidelines to Bali meetings in December, which will be the first official beginning of negotiation. I know that each country has their own challenges and problems and they are taking all necessary initiatives. All initiatives and measures should be integrated into through United Nations negotiation forum, which is United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I am encouraged that there is a wide consensus on this issue.

BB: Many people look at the United Nations and the history of these past sixty years and they say, 'But we see so much war and disagreement and debates and arguments in the Security Council.' What special role does the United Nations have and how can it do it now?

SG: United Nations is the right and appropriate venue to address this global issue. In fact, United Nations has been playing an instrumental role in addressing all environmental related issues. Look at the Montreal Protocol, addressing ozone depletion. And we have taken many treaties addressing the fishing and high lands and addressing this hazardous chemical issues. There are many, many issues. Now with this climate change high-level meeting, I hope United Nations can make another historic contribution in making this world much safer, environmentally hospitable.


BB: Sir, some 60 years ago the United Nations was created by the winners of World War Two and top on their minds was an agenda of wanting to prevent war. This is a very different kind of problem. Would you like to see some restructuring of the U.N., looking forward into the next decades, to handle global warming? It's a very different kind of a problem from war, isn't it? After all, the scientists tell us that we're in for at least three or four decades of increased temperature. Would you like to see a restructure of this tool?

SG: There is such an idea, raised by a certain number of countries, but at this time, first and foremost, first thing first. We must address this global warming issue first. If we can agree on the course of actions which we will take before the expiration of this Kyoto Protocol by 2012, I think this idea will naturally come up again and we will be able to discuss the restructuring of this organization. Now, instrumental issue is that institution is not that important. The more important is that what kind of substantive agreement which we can make at this time.

BB: I suppose people sometimes expect the UN to solve everything, but it's got to be the member nations that do it, because that's the United Nations meaning.

SG: This is an inter-governmental body, universal inter-governmental body, and therefore we must respect all of the views of all of its member states. However, when it comes to global issues, like global warming issues, then we must pool all resources, wisdom, with a sense of flexibility and creativity. This is what is required at this time of critical importance.

BB: Creativity. The United States and China are the two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, this invisible gas. What do you need from them in their different roles? One's a developing country, developing very fast. And we have, in America, been the largest emitter for a long time. What do you need from the United States and what do you need from China to bring about this major change?

SG: United States and other industrialized countries should demonstrate their political leadership, a historical leadership. They are the countries which have resources and technologies and fundings. They are the greatest emitters which have been making these problems. They should feel more responsibility on this. At the same time, developing countries should also realize that this is a common problem.


BB: What do you need from the United States and what do you need from China?

SG: Industrialized countries, including United States, they should demonstrate their political leadership and they should do based upon more historic responsibilities. They have the resources and they have the capabilities and they have technologies. They have the funding. Therefore they should be prepared to provide necessary technologies and funding to developing countries, so that developing countries will be able to adapt themselves without being forced to choose between emission reductions and addressing poverty issues. At the same time, I would appeal to developing countries. While I appreciate and sympathize with all individual challenges that they have in the course of their economic development, they should realize that this is a common global challenge. They should also be ready to get on board with maximum flexibility.

BB: Indeed, we've heard in recent decades that some of the developing countries, especially after the Kyoto agreements, were saying, 'It's not fair, we've only recently started developing. Let us develop for 20 years and then we'll join you.' But the scientists are telling all of us we don't have twenty years. So, doesn't this put a special challenge on countries like China that are just beginning to experience economic boom just at the time the scientists are telling us we have to cut emissions drastically down to twenty percent or something like that? Isn't that a special challenge? Can China do this?

SG: This is a special challenge. What I'd like to emphasize is that it's not the time to talk about historical responsibilities which has happened in the past. What we need to do is think about historical responsibilities for our future. What our grandchildren and [great] grandchildren will talk about: the historical responsibilities of the leaders of current era. 'What our forefathers have done at their time. Why have they left this world in this situation?' Therefore we must have a common responsibility. This is what I'd like to emphasize to the political leaders.

BB: The poor countries. The scientists, the economists have looked at what will happen over the next 40 years as the temperature goes up, as the sea level goes up. The poor countries are already suffering most and we're told that the poor countries will suffer most with enormous humanitarian suffering both because of sea level rise, floods and drought increasingly. Doesn't, as many people ask, doesn't this mean there is a special responsibility for the well-to-do and rich countries because we know -- this is a unique in history in a way -- we know what is coming for the poor countries. Do we have a new, special responsibility to help them in their suffering?

SG: I agree with your point. That is true that they should have special historical responsibilities and should be prepared to provide necessary cooperation to developing countries. It is ironic that the countries who have least contributed to this current situation should be the countries most affected, particularly most vulnerable countries. Therefore, I have invited the representative of the most vulnerable countries. Their views should also be heard. This is a common responsibility. Again, the industrialized countries should be prepared to do more.

BB: In fact, we understand that tomorrow, Monday evening, that you will be meeting with major emitters, the vulnerable countries that are most affected and the policy makers. What will be your guidance to them? People will now be looking to you more and more as the Secretary General. What will be your guidance when you have that meeting on Monday evening?

SG: After they will be participating in the plenary as well as a thematic debate, I have invited a limited number of leaders, biggest emitters, most vulnerable, and important negotiating group representatives to an informal gathering over dinner. The purpose of this: to let the leaders engaging in more candid and frank exchange of views share there challenges of all human beings and be more responsible for the future of our generation and future generation for entire planet earth. This is main purpose. They can agree on generating more political commitment. What we need at this time most is political commitment and strong political leadership, very clear for leadership.

BB: Do you believe that the UN has a special job in information here? Is the world, let me put it very crudely, are we scared enough? Do we need to be more scared as a population on the planet and does the UN have a role in information here?

SG: There are a series of publications by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- [they] have issued the three reports that has been enough to alarm the world community about the urgency and significance of these issues. The time is of essence. We have been feeling the impact already all around the world. This is unusual. Impact is unequivocal. Therefore, we need to take urgent action.

BB: For our American audience, we've noted for the past six or seven years that our American government is coming under increasing criticism from around the world for not taking this problem seriously. Do you believe that the U.S. government has been taking it seriously or do you want it to do more?

SG: Though United States government has been staying away from this Kyoto Protocol, they have been actively participating in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and also in this IPCC. This time I am encouraged reasonably -- the willingness to participate in this more positive way. My discussions with President Bush over telephone, over meeting at the White House, were encouraging. I am grateful for his willingness to participate in this high-level dialogue. I need American leadership. America is the biggest emitter, but fortunately America is the largest resource holder, technology innovator. Therefore, with strong participation and support of the United States, we can make this realized, to address this global warming.

BB: I understand that you are not, by profession, a scientist, but, from your perspective, what is your sense of the single biggest hurdle that we are going to have to overcome, the biggest obstacle? Is it going to be changing energy? Is it going to be sharing resources? What is the biggest problem you see that you've got to get people to focus on -- the hardest thing?

SG: First and foremost, we must change our behavior so that we can reduce the gas emissions, at least at the level of 1990 -- if 50 percent by 2050, this was an agreement at the Heiligendamm summit meeting. On the basis of that, we take adaptive measures, we take innovative technologies. We have resources to help all other developing countries.

BB: Do you think that there is something brand new for humanity here in terms of our relationship with nature? Doesn't this require a new kind of understanding by humanity, as many scientists are telling us, that we have to have a new relationship with nature as a species?

SG: Business as usual cannot make any solution. As a human being, first of all, we should be responsible for our own future. We must change our individual behavior in addressing these environmental, global warming issues. Small changes in every individual will make a great change - differences.

BB: Two last questions. I asked you about the U.S. China is the other word that always comes up in discussion. Coal is the most dangerous cause of emission, source of emission, as we understand from scientists, and we know that China is building two new coal-fired power plants every week, something like this. What do you need from China? What changes do you need to see from them? You've told us about the United States. What do you need from China?

SG: China started late in our economic development but they have been making rapid economic growth. In the course of the economic growth they have made, they have made big pollutions. Now, they should try to find out some technological innovation, renewable resources of energy, solar energy. There are many other technological ways of finding renewable energies, other sources of energy. This is what I would like to strongly urge to China. Politically, they should be prepared to participate more actively on this addressing global warming issues. This is a global challenge and therefore they should feel the global responsibility.

BB: Finally, you agreed at the beginning of this conversation with the assessment I presented from the scientists, that if we do nothing it could threaten civilization itself in the lifetime of today's children. (SG NODS). What are our chances? How optimistic are you? Do you think we could really do this, as a species, as a population that is booming on the planet? Can we do this?

SG: I am encouraged by the strong support and awareness of international community, of the urgency and significance of this global warming issues. Therefore, I am convinced that we will be able to address this issue. To make that happen, we must work together. We must pool all of the resources and wisdom and experience and particularly political will. This is what I would like to urge as a Secretary General of the United Nations to all the leaders of the world.

BB: We have no more time.

SG: No more time. Time is of essence.

BB: Finally, what is your direct advice -- from the Secretary General to our viewers, to the viewers of Nature's Edge and to the viewers of all of our programs? Your personal advice to us about how to think about it, because so many people are beginning to panic, they're beginning to feel frightened, they're beginning to think -- they don't want to think about it. Do you have any personal advice about how we think about it psychologically?

SG: As a human being, whole international community is standing at the very critically important juncture. Whether or not we address this issue properly and collectively, the whole future of our generation and planet earth will depend. That is what I am going to convene at this high level meeting. This is only the beginning. We must not leave any vacuum before this expiration of Kyoto Protocol in 2012. We must take action now before it is too late. I'd like to appeal to all of the American citizens and viewers that each and everyone must try to understand this urgency and try to change their individual way of living in addressing this environment and global warming issue. That will make a difference. That is what I am appealing to all of you.

BB: Secretary General, Thank you very much for talking to Nature's Edge.

SG: Thank you very much. It has been a great pleasure.