NEW YORK – Late next month, a child will be born — the 7 billionth citizen of planet Earth. We will never know the circumstances into which he or she was born.
We do know that the baby will enter a world of vast and unpredictable change — environmental, economic, geopolitical, technological, and demographic.
The world’s population has tripled since the United Nations was created in 1945. And our numbers keep growing, with corresponding pressures on land, energy, food, and water. The global economy is generating pressures as well: rising joblessness, widening social inequalities, and the emergence of new economic powers.
These trends link the fate and future of today’s seven billion people as never before. No nation alone can solve the great global challenges of the 21st century. International cooperation is a universal need.
The 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly is a renewed opportunity for the countries of the world to set aside narrow, short-term interests and commit to cooperative efforts to address humanity’s long-term imperatives. At a time when all nations are experiencing individual challenges, we need to forge a worldwide common agenda that can help to ensure that the 7 billionth baby and future generations grow up in a world characterized by sustainable peace, prosperity, freedom, and justice.
To help create this future, I am focusing my second term as secretary general on five global imperatives — five generational opportunities to shape the world of tomorrow by the decisions we make today.
The first and greatest of these imperatives is sustainable development. We all must understand that saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, and advancing economic growth are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security, and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.
In the next five years, we need to create a new economic vision for sustainable development and forge global consensus on a binding climate change agreement. Fostering economic growth, realizing the Millennium Development Goals, and combating climate change will all depend on creating a new energy system for the twenty-first century and extending it to every person on the planet.
Prevention as a framework for international cooperation is a second opportunity. This year, the U.N. peacekeeping budget will total $8 billion. Think of what we could save by avoiding conflicts — by deploying political mediation missions, for example, rather than troops. We know how to do this. Our record proves it — in Guinea, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan.
A third imperative is building a safer and more secure world. In this effort, we must be courageous in standing up for democracy, human rights, and peace. This year was one of signature achievements in restoring and securing peace — in Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, Egypt and elsewhere. But hatred and bloodshed still stand in the way of our vision for peace.
In the Middle East, we must break the stalemate. Palestinians deserve a state. Israel needs security. Both want peace. A negotiated settlement can produce these outcomes, and the U.N. is a platform for forging such a peace.
So, too, will we continue our efforts to foster democratic governance in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. And, in the name of all of humanity, we will continue to push forward on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, in service of realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.
The fourth big opportunity is supporting countries in transition. This year’s dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East inspired people around the globe. Let us help make the Arab Spring a true season of hope for all.
In Libya, we are deploying a new U.N. support mission to assist the country’s transitional authorities in establishing a new government and legal order, consistent with the aspirations of the Libyan people. Syria is a special concern.
For six months we have seen escalating violence and repression. The government has repeatedly pledged to undertake reforms and listen to its people. It has not done so. The moment to act is now. The violence must stop.
Last but not least is the imperative of working with and for women and young people. Women hold up more than half the sky and represent much of the world’s unrealized potential. We need their full engagement — in government, business, and civil society. The U.N. has placed a high priority on promoting women at all levels of the organization and this year, for the first time, U.N. Women is operating to promote the interests and rights of women all over the world.
Seven billion people now look toward the United Nations for solutions to the world’s great global challenges. They hold different religions and backgrounds but common dreams and aspirations.
Our global future depends on bringing these individual talents and universal rights together in common cause. Let our common agenda begin.
Ban Ki Moon is secretary general of the United Nations. © 2011 Project Syndicate