The “great goals” of the world are within reach, but will only be achieved when the international community pulls together through the United Nations to secure a better future for everyone, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told dozens of world leaders gathered today at the annual opening of the General Assembly's high-level meeting in New York.

Stressing the need for a principled and pragmatic stand “against forces that would divide us,” Mr. Ban told the 192-member Assembly's General Debate at UN Headquarters it was time to translate promises into reality on issues ranging from eradicating poverty and tackling climate change to eliminating nuclear weapons and promoting the empowerment of women.

“This is a season for pulling together, for consolidating progress, for putting our shoulder to the wheel and delivering results. Real results for people most in need, as only the UN can do.”

He described the current era, beset by the recent financial and food crises and increasing political polarization, as “difficult times” in which the world is being tested to live up to its ideals.

“The world still looks to the United Nations for moral and political leadership. The great goals are within reach. We can achieve them by looking forward, pulling together, uniting our strength as a community of nations in the name of the larger good.”

Mr. Ban welcomed the results of this week's UN summit on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of targets for defeating poverty, hunger, disease and other global ills, all by 2015.

Yesterday he also launched a Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, with countries pledging around $40 billion to slash rates of maternal and child mortality, one of the key targets of the MDGs.

Summit participants “agreed on a responsible and mutually accountable partnership – a partnership that will better the lives of billions of people within our generation. Our challenge is to deliver on this promise, to turn hopes into realities.”

Mr. Ban cited climate change, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and gender equality as among the most important issues that the world must deal with.

In a wide-ranging address he also outlined the UN's ongoing efforts to resolve conflicts or reduce tensions in places such as Somalia, Sudan, the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.

In addition, the Secretary-General spoke of the UN role in humanitarian operations, whether in dealing with long-term problems or in response to major disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan.