Durban, South Africa, 6 December 2011 – Secretary-General’s remarks to High Level Segment of UN Framework Convention Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP17 It is a great pleasure and privilege to be with you today.

President Zuma, we thank you – and the citizens of South Africa and particularly the citizens of Durban – for your gracious and stirring welcome. The negotiations over the coming days will be challenging. This we know. Let us therefore determine that, in spirit, we will be as warm and generous with one another as the hospitality we have been shown. Ladies and gentlemen, Let me speak plainly. We must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban. We know the reasons: grave economic troubles in many countries, abiding political differences , conflicting priorities and strategies for responding to climate change.

And it may be true, as many say: the ultimate goal of a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach – for now. Yet let me emphasize: none of these uncertainties should prevent us from making real progress here in Durban. Indeed, we can and must move forward on key issues. I am pleased that many parties have proposed creative ways forward. Throughout human history in any great endeavour requiring the common effort of many nations and men and women everywhere we have learned – it is only through seriousness of purpose and persistence that we ultimately carry the day. We might liken it to riding a bicycle. You stay upright and move forward so long as you keep up the momentum. Ladies and gentlemen, We must keep up our momentum.

That is the challenge before us today. That is the imperative. It would be difficult to overstate the gravity of this moment. Without exaggeration, we can say: the future of our planet is at stake. People’s lives, the health of global economy, the very survival of some nations. The science is clear. The World Meteorological Organisation has reported that carbon emissions are at their highest in history and rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us, unequivocally, that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by half by 2050 – if we are to keep the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees since pre-industrial times. According to the International Energy Agency, we are nearing the “point of no return,” and we must pull back from the abyss. You are the people who can bring us from the edge. The world is looking to you for leadership.

As Secretary-General, I travel widely. And everywhere, people ask me for help – they ask for our help as the United Nations — as nations, united. This year, on the Pacific island of Kiribati, a young boy told me: “I am afraid to sleep at my home night.” Because his land, his island, Kiribati, is slipping beneath the waves. There are many such islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. He is afraid he will be swept away by the tide while sleeping. In the Andes and the Alps, I have seen melting glaciers. At both of the Earth’s Poles, I have seen open sea where ice once dominated the horizon. I have seen arid lands where in the sun once shone on mighty rivers and great lakes — in the Amazon, flying over Lake Chad in the African sahel and flying over the Aral Sea on the vast steppe of Central Asia. I have met, personally, with thousands of people who have lost all to catastrophic floods and spreading deserts.

And, just last month, I flew over miles and miles of devastated virgin forest and peatland in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Is this the future we want? A world of out-of-control clima