The world is at a crossroads. The future of mankind and the planet is at stake. On 9 November the International Energy Agency warned: “Rising fossil-fuel energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.” Despite Rio, despite Kyoto, despite Copenhagen, CO2 emissions rose by 5.3% last year. Humanity is using up natural resources 35% faster than they can regenerate. And in Bhutan and Nepal, we can no longer stave off glacial melting that threatens devastating glacial lake outburst flooding, and shrinking sources of water for hundreds of millions downstream. There is no time to waste. Without immediate action, warns the IEA, by 2017 all CO2 emissions will be “locked in” by existing power plants, factories, buildings and other infrastructure.

Our global economic system is in rapid melt-down, starting with the financial collapse of 2008 and now manifesting in Europe’s severe and spreading debt crisis. That economic system, based on the totally unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet, is the direct cause of the very policies that the IEA says are leading us to a calamitous end as evident in the growing frequency and magnitude of man made and natural disasters. And that economic system has produced ever widening inequities, with 20% of the world’s people now consuming 86% of its goods, 84% of its paper, and 87% of its cars, while the poorest 20% consume 1% or less of each and emit only 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases. That gap, coupled with the deep economic crisis, led the International Labour Organization to warn on 30 October that the world faces years of social unrest as economies falter.

The OECD warned that "without decisive action the outlook is gloomy." But the “decisive action” now required goes far beyond tinkering with the fundamentally flawed GDP-based economic system, which mistakenly counts resource depletion as economic gain. It was instituted at a time when economists did not know the limits of nature’s capacity to support human economic activity, or that human activity could change the climate of the planet to produce what the UNDP calls “the greatest challenge facing humanity.”

And yet, this moment presents an opportunity. The world is in need of an international consensus for the creation of a sustainability-based economic paradigm, with wellbeing indicators, national accounting systems that count natural and social capital values to assess the true costs and gains of economic activity, regulatory institutions, and systems of trade and incentives for sustainable production. There is the urgent need for measures to reduce pollution and drastically slow resource degradation while protecting and supporting the world’s most vulnerable peoples.

The UN General Assembly resolution A/65/L.86, introduced by Bhutan with support from 68 Member States, and unanimously adopted by the UN, called for a “holistic approach to development” aimed at promoting sustainable happiness and wellbeing. It thrust on my small country the responsibility of initiating steps for the furtherance of this resolution. It is therefore planned that key representative leaders from developed and developing nations, along with leading economists, scientists, and civil society and spiritual leaders, come together to issue a clarion call at the UN on 2nd April for a sustainability-based economic development paradigm to replace the current system. To this end, it is hoped that the high-level meeting will call for the world’s best experts, based on the best available knowledge to work together over the next year to hammer out the details of the measures, accounts, and financial mechanisms required for a happiness-based economic model for the consideration of the international community. Such a model, or aspects of it would then be available for incorporation into national policies on a voluntary basis.

Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister, Royal Government of Bhutan