UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for "revolutionary action" to achieve sustainable development, warning that the past century's heedless consumption of resources is "a global suicide pact" with time running out to ensure an economic model for survival.
"Let me highlight the one resource that is scarcest of all: time," he told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in a session devoted to redefining sustainable development. "We are running out of time. Time to tackle climate change. Time to ensure sustainable, climate-resilient green growth. Time to generate a clean energy revolution."
Describing sustainable development the growth agenda for the 21st century, Mr. Ban recited a litany of development errors based on a false belief in the infinite abundance of natural resources that fuelled the economy in the last century.
"We mined our way to growth," he said. "We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone. In the 21st century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high."
All this now needs rethinking to secure the balanced development that will lift people out of poverty while protecting the planet and ecosystems that support economic growth, he told the assembly of heads of State and government, international economists, business and industry leaders and civil society at the meeting in Davos.
"Here at Davos - this meeting of the mighty and the powerful, represented by some key countries - it may sound strange to speak of revolution," he said. "But that is what we need at this time. We need a revolution. Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action. A free market revolution for global sustainability.
"The ancients saw no division between themselves and the natural world. They understood how to live in harmony with the world around them. It is time to recover that sense of living harmoniously for our economies and our societies," said Mr. Ban.
"Not to go back to some imagined past, but to leap confidently into the future with cutting-edge technologies, the best science and entrepreneurship has to offer, to build a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all. There is no time to waste," he warned.
"It is easy to mouth the words 'sustainable development,' but to make it happen we have to be prepared to make major changes - in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life," Mr. Ban told the meeting in Davos.
And he called on governments both in Davos and around the world to send the right signals to build the Green Economy. "Together, let us tear down the walls," he declared. "The walls between the development agenda and the climate agenda. Between business, government and civil society. Between global security and global sustainability."
The business and industrial community will clearly have a key role in the transition to a Green Economy. Mr. Ban called on business leaders to join the 11-year-old United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest corporate responsibility initiative committing businesses to aligning their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.
At a separate event, he also launched the Global Compact Lead with a group of 54 global companies as founding members, who have committed to be at the cutting edge of environmental, social and governance issues, joining forces to translate sustainable development principles into business operations and deepening partnerships with the entire UN system.
"When companies like yours drive sustainability issues deeper into your operations and strategy, year after year, you send a powerful signal. Indeed, you change the world," he told the business leaders. "In this century far more than the last, we need business to achieve our fundamental purposes at the United Nations.
Mr. Ban's message on the Green Economy at Davos has become a pillar of his global message on how the world must generate energy and manage its natural assets to ensure sustainable development for future generations.
Last month at a meeting in New York on the Green Economy, Mr. Ban stressed that while the past two decades has seen considerable economic growth, it has come at the cost of depleting the Planet's natural resources.
"Will the 9 billion people who will inhabit this planet in 2050 have the opportunity to thrive? Or will vast numbers merely struggle to survive ... or worse, see their world descend into chaos? This is the fundamental question of sustainable development," he warned.
"A country can cut its forests and deplete its fisheries, and it shows only as a positive gain in GDP, ignoring the corresponding decline in assets," Mr. Ban told participants, including economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs. "We need to revise our accounting and embrace a low-carbon, resource-efficient, pro-poor economic model," he added.
Mr. Ban stressed that it is the Green Economy that can help to unlock the door to a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world and will be the core of his priorities in the runup to the preparations for the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Twenty years earlier in Rio, the Earth Summit provided the concept for sustainable development. "Then we were just glimpsing the emerging challenges of climate change, desertification, land degradation and the loss of species," recalls Mr. Ban. Today, however, many of those concerns have become urgent and have yet to see comprehensive action or results, he added.
Mr. Ban announced that this month the UN Environment Programme will unveil its latest Green Economy report which will show how green economic thinking can unleash the government policies and business opportunities that will power green growth, reduce poverty and bring the benefits of sustainable development to all.