The Small Island Developing States known as SIDS are on the front lines of climate change and are taking the lead in finding solutions that the whole world needs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.

“The slogan for this conference is island voices, global voices,” he told attendees at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa. “Let us heed those voices. Island issues affect us all.”

Island issues affect us all, said @UN Secretary-General at the opening of #islands2014 conference

Ban likened what happens on small islands to a magnifying glass through which the rest of the world can see its own weaknesses.

“When we look through the SIDS lens, we see the vulnerabilities we all face and, by addressing the issues facing SIDS, we are developing the tools we need to promote sustainable development across the entire world.”

In addition to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and agreeing on a post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals, the world needs “a meaningful, universal, legal global climate agreement by the end of next year in Paris,” he said, alluding to the December 2015 meeting to be held there.

The effects of climate change are visible everywhere, he said, “but nowhere more so than in SIDS.”

Ban recalled a visit two years ago to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, both in the South Pacific.

One small town on the Solomon Islands is planning to relocate its entire population in the face of rising seas, he noted. “The people of Kiribati face the same prospect.”

He noted that his room in Kiribati – like all the rooms in the hotel — came equipped with a life jacket.

And he recounted a conversation with a boy who told him he was afraid to sleep at night for fear of being inundated by the sea.

That”s not a far-fetched fear, he said, noting that he traveled Sunday to a Samoan village that was abandoned by its residents after a tsunami in 2009.

“They are scared to return to the coast because they cannot predict the next weather disaster,” he said in a plea for international action and a transformation of the “business-as-usual” mindset. “By failing to act, we condemn the most vulnerable to unacceptable disruption to their lives.”

Ban noted that the Climate Change Summit, to be held 23 September at UN Headquarters in New York, is intended to catalyze action and build momentum for a climate agreement in Paris in December 2015.

The Small Island Developing States can set an example for the rest of the world about how to build resilience and create green economies, he said.