Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries to act decisively to tackle the "growing crisis" of climate change, as United Nations negotiations kicked into high gear in Doha, Qatar.
"Let us be under no illusion. This is a crisis. A threat to us all. Our economies. Our security. And the well-being of our children and those who will come after," Mr. Ban said at the start of the high-level segment of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
"The danger signs are all around," he added, pointing to the unprecedented melting of icecaps, rising sea levels, and land degradation and drought in various parts of the world.
"No one is immune to climate change - rich or poor," he stated. "It is an existential challenge for the whole human race - our way of life, our plans for the future. We must take ownership. We, collectively, are the problem. Then we should have the solutions."
The two-week conference brings together the 195 Parties to the UNFCCC, the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol, 37 States - consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy - have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.
Delegates at the two-week conference - that ends this Friday - will, among other goals, try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period expires at the end of 2012.
"I urge all Parties to work with a spirit of compromise - to take the long view and avoid getting bogged down in minutiae," Mr. Ban told participants. "Let us ensure that we stay on track for an effective, fair, ambitious and universal climate agreement by 2015."
The Secretary-General said he hoped for five key "deliverables" by Governments in Doha this week, beginning with the adoption of a ratifiable second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
"The Kyoto Protocol remains the closest we have to a global, binding climate agreement. It must continue. It is a foundation to build on. It has important institutions, including accounting and legal systems, and the framework that markets sorely need. Its continuation on 1 January 2013 would show that governments remain committed to a more robust climate regime."
He also expected progress on long-term climate finance, and ensuring that the institutions set up in Cancun and Durban to support mitigation and adaptation by developing countries - including the Green Climate Fund and the Climate Technology Centre and Network - are fully equipped and effective.
In addition, he expected governments to demonstrate, with no ambiguity, that negotiations on a global and legally binding instrument remain on track, and to show how they intend to act on the gap between mitigation pledges and what is required to achieve the two degrees target.
Recent UN-led reports have pointed to the urgency of keeping global average temperatures from rising beyond an internationally agreed level of two degrees Celsius, beyond which climate change would have serious impacts.
"The gap can be bridged. But time is not on our side," Mr. Ban warned.
The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, told the meeting that addressing the problem of climate change must become a core national interest of every UN Member State.
"The window of opportunity to prevent the effects of climate change from spiralling out of our control is closing," he said. "When future generations look upon the choices we made, let them not be forced to exclaim that we failed to act in time. Let them not have to suffer the consequences of the inability to answer the clarion call to act with conscientious foresight."
Speaking to reporters in Doha today, Mr. Ban emphasized that "we are in a race against time," adding that every delay will require greater future effort or will mean greater future harm.
"If we act together with clear purpose, we can meet this challenge. But we need to be united - governments from all regions, business and civil society. We have a clear choice: stand together, or fall together."