Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the press after addressing the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. (3 November 2019). Credit: UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). - Photo: 2019

UN Chief Lauds ‘Quantum Leap’ on Multiple Issues in ASEAN-UN Relations

Secretary-General António Guterres’ Press Encounter

Following are extensive extracts from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press encounter on 3 November 2019 following the ASEAN-UN Summit.

BANGKOK (IDN-INPS) – I am extremely happy with the UN ASEAN summit. Two years ago, I asked for a quantum leap in relations between ASEAN and the UN and we can, today, verify that that a quantum leap happened.

The cooperation between the two organizations is today exemplary, extremely deep and diversified, and it is a fundamental pillar of multilateralism in our world. I was extremely encouraged with a very strong commitment in favor of multilateralism that transpired from all the interventions during today’s meeting. We are totally committed to a world in which international law prevails in international relations, and in which multilateral organizations have a key role to play in the management of world affairs.

I also want to say that there was a very strong convergence of points of view, innovation of some of the key concerns that we have. This is a summit on partnership for sustainability. And the most of dramatic threat to sustainability today is climate change.

Climate change was referred to practically by all heads of state and governments that that intervened today as a major concern for us all.

Climate change

Indeed, we are still losing the race. Climate change is running faster than what we are. We all see the dramatic impact of climate change in natural disasters, in drought and in different events around the world from glaciers that melts from the ice cap that disappear from the corals that bleach, but more and more with dramatic impacts in the life of the people and in the health of people around the world.

Just a few days ago, and this was referred during the meeting, a research institute published what is the result of an analysis about this speed with which the sea-level is rising. According to that research, the sea-level is rising much faster than what was expected and forecasted in the past. It is now foreseen that if we are not able to defeat climate change, we will have in 2050 an impact of the sea-level rise on over 300 million people. Now, of these 300 million people, 70% are in countries that either belong to ASEAN or to other Asian countries that will be coming to Bangkok to meet with ASEAN during these days. It is absolutely essential to avoid for this to happen.

Thailand, for instance, is threatened to have 10% of its population impacted by the flood created by the high level of the rise of the sea. That is the reason why I’ve been strongly appealing for the needs of the international community to comply with what is the best science available and what the scientists have asked us to do in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. This means to limit the growth of temperature to 1.5 degrees at the end of the century, to be carbon neutral in the world in 2050, and to reduce emissions by 45% in the next decade. If we miss these objectives the situation will be catastrophic, with dramatic impact around the world, and four of the 10 countries more dramatically impacted by climate change countries are from ASEAN.

It is my deep belief that it is essential to put a price on carbon – today Singapore has announced that its carbon tax is already fully operational – that it is essential to stop subsidies to fossil fuel . Subsidies come from taxpayers’ money. It doesn’t make sense taxpayers money, our money, is used to boost hurricane, to bleach corals or to melt glaciers.

It is also essential to stop the construction of new coal-based power plants from 2020 onwards. And, in relation to this, I had the occasion to express my deep concern with the fact that there is still very meaningful lists of new power plants based on coal for the next future in different parts of the world. But a large part of this list of coal power plants projected is in countries of East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. And I believe that it’s very important to recognize that the addiction to go can undermine our efforts to defeat climate change.

We had the opportunity to discuss many other aspects of our cooperation from disaster risk reduction to counter-terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism, to aspects related to the Sustainable Development Goals and the alignment of the Vision 2025 from ASEAN with the Agenda 2030 of the UN, with the empowerment of women, with the protection of vulnerable sectors of the population, about human rights, all other aspects of our cooperation were mentioned.

I also had the opportunity to express my concern with a dramatic situation of the refugees from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazaar, whose situation is getting worse by the day and with the need for Myanmar to actively engage in a national reconciliation, able to create the conditions for the peaceful for the voluntary return of the refugees in safety and dignity to a peaceful Rakhine State.

Rakhine state

I am at your disposal for any question that you would like to raise. 

Question: I have a couple of questions for you. The first one, what more can ASEAN do to help resolve the crisis in Rakhine State? Are there any pragmatic measures that can be carried out, apart from repatriation?

Secretary-General: Well, I must say that ASEAN has been engaging more and more the government of Myanmar and the UN fully supports that engagement. I was told by the Secretary of ASEAN that a special task force will be created for that purpose, beyond the all the effort that Member States ever been establishing, and I have to express my admiration for, for instance, what has been the very active engagement of Indonesia in addressing the situation

Obviously, the most important thing is to create the conditions for the true reconciliation of the communities. In Rakhine State we have Rohingya community, we have Rakhine community, it’s essential to create the conditions for reconciliation to allow for hate to speech to disappear, to allow for forms of expression of hatred and rejection to disappear, and to have the military forces and the police forces as elements of reconciliation and not as elements of persecution, for people to feel that it is safe to return and for the conditions of the voluntary and safe and dignified return to be possible.

Renewable energy

Question: [question on renewable energy and coal]

Secretary-General: It’s very simple. Today it is clear that renewable energy is the cheapest one.

Technology has evolved in such a way that today renewables are the most effective form to produce electricity.

What happens is that, due to subsidies to fossil fuels, or to the fact that sometimes it’s easier to do it another way, we still have a large number of coal power plants being projected for the next few years. And that is true in several parts of the world, but as I said, is particularly true in parts of East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. And, in my opinion, and I have done a concrete appeal to the leaders of several countries that have these plant projects or of the countries that provide the finance or the technology for these plants. My appeal is for an emphasis to be put on renewables and to be able to stop the construction of new coal power plants, because, as I said, the addiction to go can undermine because of its direct impact on the emissions of CO2, can undermine our efforts to defeat climate change.

Human trafficking

Question: During the summit, whether any issue about the combat from human trafficking discussed?

Secretary-General: Yes, human trafficking was one of the issues that was discussed. There is a very strong commitment, both from the UN and ASEAN, to combat human trafficking. But I think, for us, it’s clear that the response for that is international cooperation. It’s the compact on migration that was approved by the international community, asking for effective coordination of efforts with countries of origin, transit and destination. Because if migration is, in my opinion, inevitable, and it is even a positive aspect of life in the world.

I can give you an example of my own country. We have a fertility index; we have an aging population fertility index of 1.3. Portugal cannot survive without migration. I always give the example of my mother, she’s 96 years old, and she has always someone taking care of her permanently but when I visit her, I met many migrants are taking care of my mother. So, we all know the importance of migration. Thailand is a country with millions of migrants. And if migration is inevitable, then it’s better to organize it by international cooperation, because today largely migration is organized by traffickers and smugglers, and this is what we must at all costs avoid because of the horrible violations of human rights. The worst aspect is of course the trafficking of human beings, specially the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation and abuse, that is probably the most hideous crime that exists in today’s world.

Question: Basically it is called now public enemy number one when it comes to climate change?

Secretary-General: Not public enemy number one because, unfortunately, there are many public enemies. But this is clearly it on the top of the list.

Question: The same research will be cited from earlier in the week. It showed the major part the Mekong Delta submerged by 2015, bordering all the way up to border of Cambodia. What does that foretell for regional security?


Secretary-General: I think it shows that climate change is not totally a threat from the point of view of the well-being of people, climate change is today one of the key factors of increase the insecurity and even conflicts. If you look at the Sahel, one of the drivers of the conflict in the Sahel is climate change. And these the droughts produced by climate change, putting a bigger and bigger stress in the relations between farmers and herders. So, climate change is a security problem and needs to be addressed also as a security problem.

Question: Do you have any comment on the dozens of Vietnamese who died in trucks in the UK and is enough being done to combat these sophisticated trafficking networks you refer to that lead to these kinds of tragedies?

Secretary-General: Well, as I said, first of all, we need to organize migration because you if you organize migration, if migration is legal, traffickers and smugglers will not have a business. It is because there is not enough organized migration that traffickers and smugglers have a business and a very profitable business. And so we need to not only organize migration, but also increase the opportunities for legal migration.

But we need to have a much more effective international cooperation in relation to trafficking of human beings. I would like to see the same commitment that exists today in international cooperation of police, intelligence services, security agencies, I would like to see the same international cooperation for the trafficking of human beings that the international cooperation has for drug trafficking. Because the trafficking of human being is an even more hideous crime than drug trafficking. But unfortunately, I still see more effort of the international community in relation to drug trafficking and, of course that effort needs to be maintained, then the effort that is necessary in international coordination to effectively crack down on smugglers and traffickers because that crime is, in my opinion, the most hideous crime we have in today’s world.

River management

Question: I would also go back to the topic of climate change. You mentioned the effects of rising sea waters when coastal cities in the present might be affected. The Mekong River drying up in parts of Thailand, where it has dried up so much that you could almost walk over to Laos, for example. Was the issue of river management discussed.

Secretary-General: That was not specifically discussed in today’s meeting. But when I was Prime Minister of Portugal, I’m very proud of the fact that we established the landmark agreements on the management of our common water resources with Spain. That agreement was very difficult to negotiate. But it was such a success that after that nobody has ever discussed the problem and the two countries have been able to manage, together, what are our common resources. My recommendation in other parts of the world where this problem exists, and namely the Mekong River, is international cooperation is agreement among states to create a situation in which all can benefit from the most precious resources of all that is water. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 November 2019]

Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the press after addressing the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. (3 November 2019). Credit: UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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