Model UNESCO Conference

27 Mar 2008

Opening remarks by

Mahmood Ayub

Bilkent Preparatory School, Ankara


Dear Students, Distinguished Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to address you at this Model UNESCO Conference

Almost 40 years ago, I left my native country of Pakistan as an 18 year old boy to do my undergraduate studies in England. One of the first things I did was to join the UN Student Association. Several decades later, my three children—all at different times—have participated in Model UN activities.

So for me this event is like home-coming—like history repeating itself.

I am convinced more than ever that Model UN and Model UNESCO activities are important because they expose youth to global issues, and because they raise your moral conscience on matters that affect the globe. They are also important because they help develop your skills, that can be very useful to you throughout your lives.

As you know, the UN deals with a great deal of activities in over 180 countries worldwide. These activities include: achieving peace and security; reducing poverty; championing human rights; dealing with environmental and climate change; addressing problems of corruption and governance; coping with issues of migration, of youth, of women and the handicapped. So the scope of the UN is really universal.

Let me, however, in my brief talk, focus on three of these topics. I will focus on these three topics because I feel they have a great deal of relevance to you and your future lives. And because there is a sense of urgency about them.

The first area is the incidence of poverty in the world.

The second is the urgent issue of climate environmental degradation and climate change.

And the third area is the challenge of youth—especially youth in the age of group of 15-24 years.

Let me start with the problem of poverty in the world.

·        There are still around one billion people worldwide living on less than a dollar a day.

·        Almost one-third of children in less developed countries are under-weight or stunted.

·        While in industrialized countries, clean water is now literally available at the twist of a tap, in the developing world some 1.1 billion people do not have access to a minimum amount of clean water.

·        The problem is even more serious when it comes to access to basic sanitation. No less than 2.6 billion people—half the population of the developing world—do not have access to basic sanitation.

·        Over half a million women die annually of preventable and treatable complications in pregnancy and child-birth.

The tragedy of the situation is that much of this sad situation could have been avoided, or at least its impact reduced. But the unfortunate situation is that the gap between the rich and the poor countries has been increasing, rather than decreasing.

The average income per capita of the 20 richest countries in 1960 was 16 times the average per capita income of the non-oil exporting less developed countries. Today it is more than 35 times as high.

Unfortunately the richer countries have failed to live up to their own commitments they made to provide adequate financial support to the poorer countries. In 2005, the leading industrial nations pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010. In reality, total official aid declined in real terms by over 5% between 2005 and 2006. Only five donor countries: Denmark, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have reached or exceeded the United Nations target of allocating 0.7% of their Gross National Income for aid.

And the industrialized countries have not taken major steps to reduce the trade barriers against the exports of developing countries, in the context of the Doha Round of trade negotiations.

There is, therefore, a clear need for urgent and concerted action to fulfill the commitment made by the world community to lift the millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Let me now move to the second area of urgent action: environmental degradation and climate change.

Ultimately of course climate change is a threat to all of humanity as a whole. But it is the 2.6 billion poor of the world who face the immediate and most severe human costs of climate change.

And the tragedy is that this constituency of the world’s poorest is being punished for an ecological crime that they did not commit.

Let me illustrate this point:

·        The United Kingdom, with a population of 60 million, alone emits more Carbon Dioxide than Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam together, with a population of almost 500 million people

·        Similarly the state of Texas in the United States, with a population of only 23 million, has a deeper footprint than the whole sub-Saharan Africa, with a population more than 30 times that of Texas.

A UNDP Report last year highlighted that unless the forces unleashed by global warming are not controlled, they could stop and then reverse the economic and social progress achieved over generations.

Of course mitigation and adaptation measures against climate change will have costs to implement. But please note that the cost of avoiding dangerous climate represents less than two-thirds of the current annual world military spending of well over 1 trillion dollars.

Finally let me talk briefly about the issues of youth, with special focus on Youth in Turkey.

Last week, UNDP released a report on Youth in Turkey, which I would strongly recommend that you read. The report was prepared in close consultation with Turkish youth.

Turkey currently has over 12 million young women and men in the age group of 15-24 years. This is a very large number.

·        It accounts for about 17% of the Turkish population.

·        It is six times the whole population of Latvia.

·        It is twice the size of Denmark.

·        And it is one-and-a-half times the population of Bulgaria.

Because of this large size of youth population, Turkey’s working age population will expand every year by over 800,000 during the next 10-15 years. So Turkey needs to find productive jobs for these new entrants to the job market to avoid the youth becoming a source of political, social and economic tensions.

When it comes to the type of employment opportunities for Turkey’s youth, it is quite clear that Turkey cannot compete in the global market on low cost activities. The competition is too strong from countries such as China, India and other developing countries. So Turkey will have to focus on activities based on knowledge, ICT, innovation and research. And its students will have to become fully proficient in computer technology skills and knowledge-based services.

Turkey will also need to develop a coherent and integrated national youth policy, which should focus on all aspects that affect youth—education, health, employment, participation in the society and so on.

And above all the preparation of the national youth policy should give youth the opportunity to voice their views. What do they see as their problems? What do they see as possible solutions?

Dear students, professors and honorable guests

Turkey is only 15 years away from the first centenary of the Turkish Republic in the year 2023. The founding father of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, laid the foundation for greater focus on youth and the disadvantaged. His famous words: “I leave this Republic as a sacred gift to Turkish youth” still reverberate like the words of a visionary, the words of a towering personality, and a true leader.

The challenge for all of you—as the future of this country—is how to realize his vision. And the challenge for you all is how to do something—in your own small but important way—to make this fragile planet of ours a safer, more sustainable, more peaceful, and a more just place.

I am therefore delighted and honored to be able to participate in this important event that has the same objectives. I wish you all the very best for this conference.

Thank you.