The UN secretary general said in his year-end briefing Wednesday that 2011 represents a turning point in history, with its wave of protests around the world and climate change.
Ban Ki-moon said the "Arab Spring has transformed the geopolitical landscape."
He said 2011 has seen many people demonstrating, from the Middle East and even in the developed world with its Occupy protests, out of frustration.
"It's not only those countries under oppression; it's even in the developed world," he said. "We have seen so many people demonstrating out of frustration. That is why I have been saying this is a generational opportunity to address this issue.… This is the moment which we have to seize and help them."
Ban added this is why the UN's priorities next year include to support countries in transition, such as Egypt and Tunisia, and programs to help women and young people.
"There have been marginalized people, and there has been inequity between rich and poor. And particularly we have not paid enough attention to women and youth."
He also said "significant progress" has been made on tackling climate change during last week's UN conference in Durban, South Africa.
"At Durban, we defied the skeptics. We showed clearly that UN multilateral negotiations can deliver: consensus on a clear target and timeline for reaching a legally binding agreement involving all countries," he said.
'At an inflection point in history'
He also added that 2011 also delivered warnings about our common future. The disaster at Fukushima in Japan revived concerns about nuclear safety, and record floods in Pakistan, Thailand, Colombia and El Salvador were a vivid reminder of the increasing incidence of extreme weather.
"I believe we are at an inflection point in history. All is changing," Ban said. "The old rules are breaking down. We do not know what new order will emerge."
Ban's comments came as the UN's aid chief asks donor nations for $7.7 billion to pay for humanitarian emergencies in 2012.
The initial request for next year is significantly lower than the $8.9 billion that the global body asked for in 2011.
The UN's humanitarian appeals are revised throughout the year to respond to unforeseen disasters. UN aid chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday that the appeal would cover the needs of 51 million people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
The biggest amount, $1.5 billion, will be devoted to Somalia. Ban became the first UN secretary general in 18 years to visit Somalia on a recent trip, he said Wednesday.
The Somalia funding is followed by $1.1 billion for Sudan and $764 million for Kenya, where tens of thousands of Somalis have sought shelter from war and famine.