The year 2015 offers a unique opportunity for global leaders and people to end poverty and transform the world, to better meet human needs while protecting the environment, and to ensure peace and the realization of human rights.

With our globalized economy and sophisticated technology, we can decide to end the age-old ills of extreme poverty and hunger. Or we can continue to degrade our planet and allow intolerable inequalities to sow bitterness and despair. Our ambition must be to achieve sustainable development for all.

We must ensure that this transition, while protecting the planet, leaves no one behind. We have a shared responsibility to embark on a path to inclusive and shared prosperity in a peaceful and resilient world, where human rights and the rule of law are upheld.

Seven decades, profound change

Humankind has achieved impressive progress over the past seven decades. We have witnessed stunning technological advances, millions upon millions lifted from poverty, millions more empowered, diseases defeated, life expectancies increased, democracy supported and vibrant economies built in all regions.

Yet as the United Nations marks its 70th anniversary, we must recognize that conditions in today’s world are a far cry from the vision of the organization’s founding charter. In times of plenty for some, we witness pervasive poverty, gross inequalities, joblessness, disease and deprivation. Displacement is at its highest level since the Second World War. Armed conflict, crime, terrorism, persecution, corruption, impunity and the erosion of the rule of law are daily realities. The effects of the global economic, food and energy crises are still being felt. The consequences of climate change have only just begun. These failings and shortcomings have done as much to define the modern era as has our progress in science, technology and the mobilization of global social movements.

We also know, however, that these problems are not accidents of nature or the results of phenomena beyond our control. They result from actions and omissions of people, public institutions, the private sector and others charged with protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.

APPROVED-Ban Ki Moon

We have the know-how and the means to address these challenges, but we need urgent leadership and joint action now. In an irreversibly interconnected world, the challenges faced by any of us become the challenges faced by each of us — sometimes gradually, but often suddenly. Facing these vexing challenges is not simply a burden, it is, far more, an opportunity to forge new partnerships and alliances that can work together to advance the human condition.

In our quest to shape a global sustainable development agenda for the years beyond 2015, the international community has embarked upon an unprecedented process. Never before has so broad and inclusive a consultation been undertaken, on so many matters of global concern. All member states, the entire UN system, experts and a cross-section of civil society and business (and, most importantly, millions of people from all corners of the globe), have been part of the discussion. People worldwide have underscored the need for democracy, the rule of law, civic space and better governance and institutions. Having now opened the tent wide to a broad constituency, we must recognize that the legitimacy of this process will rest, in significant measure, on the degree to which the core messages that we have received are reflected in the final outcome.

Three opportunities

Three high-level international meetings in 2015 give us the opportunity to chart a new era of sustainable development. The first will be the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Addis Ababa in July, where a compact for a global partnership may be realized.

The second will be the special summit on sustainable development, to be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York in September, where the world will embrace the new agenda and a set of sustainable development goals, which we hope will mark a paradigm shift for people and the planet.

The third will be the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Paris in December, at which member states will pledge to adopt a new agreement to tackle a threat that could make it more difficult to deliver on the new sustainable development agenda.

The stars are aligned for the world to take historic action to transform lives and protect the planet. I urge governments and people everywhere to fulfil their political and moral responsibilities. This is my call to dignity, and we must respond with all our vision and strength.

Author: Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Image: A supermoon raises over Petare slum in Caracas. REUTERS/Jorge Silva