Climate change is real and is quite literally lapping at our feet, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his first engagement in New Zealand at Auckland University.

Having just arrived from a visit to the tiny island nation of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, Mr Ban said the region was on the front line of climate change, a subject which will feature large on the Pacific leaders summit.

He is the first UN Secretary General to attend a Pacific Islands Forum which begins in Auckland tomorrow morning.

New Zealand is hosting not only the forum but the Rugby World Cup and Mr Ban said those worlds were not that different.


"In rugby you lose teeth. In diplomacy you lose face," he said.

"Rugby scrums confuse anyone who doesn't know the game. So do UN debates. And sometimes they can look very similar!"

Mr Ban challenged those who thought climate change was about some distant future to go and visit Kiribati - a low-lying and impoverished state north east of Fiji with about 93,000 people.

"Climate change is not about tomorrow. It is lapping at our feet quite literally in Kiribati and elsewhere."

Mr Ban praised New Zealand's efforts in supporting sustainable and renewable energy

"New Zealand is a leader," he said." I thank you for your commitment and assure you of my own."

He wanted climate change solutions that were fair for all.

Prime Minister John key this morning announced that New Zealand would invest $7.9 million in a public private partnership in Tonga with Meridian energy to build a solar energy plant in Tonga.


Mr Ban mentioned former Prime Minister Helen, now head of the United Nations Development Programme and who was a former student and lecturer at Auckland University.

"This may be my first time on campus but I often feel I have benefited from an Auckland University education."

It happened whenever he sat down with Helen Clark.

He noted that the university specialised in training not only for policy and politics but also peace and security.

"I sometimes feel we could all use a little of the spirit of Auckland alumna Lucy Lawless - Xena the Warrior Princess."

Mr Ban wished the All Blacks well in the Rugby World Cup.

In heart and spirit the Rugby World Cup was a celebration of common values and a way of life - "teamwork, mutual respect, solidarity, the qualities of grit and determination, all very useful I have found in the world of diplomacy."

It was fitting that New Zealand played host to the world

"Kiwis are famed for warmth and hospitality - also for your global perspective - your outreach to the world."

He noted that New Zealand was the first country "to embrace universal suffrage."

And it was a strong support of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015 and a major donor in the Pacific.

"I thank you for your leadership."