"Climate change is the defining issue of our time. If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone," said the UN chief in opening remarks to the Abu Dhabi Ascent Sunday, which he is co-hosting with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government to prepare for and build commitment ahead of the UN Climate Summit set for Sep 23 in New York.
More than 1,000 participants, including 100 UAE government ministers, have gathered in Abu Dhabi for the two-day event to chart new routes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening climate resilience.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, minister of state and special envoy for energy and climate change, and John Ashe, president of the UN General Assembly, also spoke on the occasion.
The Abu Dhabi Ascent is the first international meeting to draw on the conclusions of the recently issued reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found the consequences of climate change are already being felt, and that, while present action is insufficient, there are still pathways towards a low carbon future that could minimize the phenomenon's impacts.
Action now, said the report, is necessary in order to avoid much higher costs in the future.
Thanking the UAE government for being pioneers on the journey to a low-carbon future, Ban said: "It is the future we need and we have to lay the foundations today. We have little time to lose."
"That is why it is important that governments complete a meaningful new climate agreement by 2015 that will rapidly reduce emissions and support resilience," he continued, explaining that the upcoming New York summit is designed to shape a collective ambitious vision rooted in concrete action.
"I am inviting heads of state and government, along with mayors and senior representatives from business, finance and civil society, to join a 'race to the top'," said the secretary-general, adding that he was also asking the participants to announce bold commitments and actions that will catalyse transformative change.
The UN chief said that his summit will focus on solutions. It will provide a high visibility platform for those who are ready to lead so they can invite others to follow.
"Our meeting here in Abu Dhabi is a major milestone on the ascent to the summit. It gives you a chance to experience the wealth of opportunity that exists so you can leave here ready to join others in acting."
Ban went on to set out the nine key areas he has identified with the greatest potential for fast, meaningful results. These include energy, cities and transport, finance, resilience, agriculture and short-lived climate pollutants.
He said that many of the solutions needed already exist. Many others are being rapidly developed.
"But we need to deploy them at a scale that matches the challenge. And we need to do it now, because we may not get a second chance," he warned, adding that "we are rapidly approaching dangerous thresholds. The longer we delay, the more we will pay".
He said that governments have promised a new climate agreement next year in Paris. But the Abu Dhabi Ascent could help by proving that climate action now means opening a world of opportunity.
The benefits of addressing climate change include reduced pollution, improved public health, fewer disasters, less poverty, cleaner, more efficient and affordable energy, better managed forests, liveable cities and increased food security, said the secretary-general.
Later at a press conference, the UN chief hailed the Abu Dhabi Ascent as an opportunity to demonstrate that people are ready to work together for a low carbon future.
"I am asking all participants - including you, the media - to leave here inspired to urge leaders to act," he told reporters.
He again called for a "bold vision" and announcements of action that can make a difference, saying that was how political will would be mobilised for a meaningful global climate agreement in 2015.
"Our motto must be adopt and adapt. Adopt what works and adapt it for your nation, your business, your community," the secretary-general said, warning that "time is against us".
"Nature will not wait. The planet is sending us a message. We must listen," Ban said.