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UN chief warns of ‘mass exodus’ due to rising seas

Rising sea levels which threaten 900 million could cause the ‘mass exodus of entire populations’, the UN secretary-general António Guterres has warned.

Speaking at the Security Council yesterday, Guterres explained that seas are rising by triple the average rate in some nations which could leave communities stateless.

Sea level rise threatens people’s access to clean water, food and healthcare, while also destroying vital infrastructure and jeopardising jobs and local economies.

Data from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) shows that global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than any other preceding century in the last 3,000 years.

blue sky and white clouds over sea

According to these findings, even if global heating is ‘miraculously’ limited to 1.5°C, there will still be significant changes in sea levels.

‘The impact of rising seas is already creating new sources of instability and conflict,’ said the UN chief, who opened the meeting.

Explaining what the world could experience in the future, he said: ‘We would witness a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale, and we would see ever-fiercer competition for fresh water, land and other resources.’

Under any temperature scenarios, countries like China, Bangladesh, India and the Netherlands will all be at risk, while mega-cities, such as London, New York, Lagos and Mumbai, will also face serious impacts.

Projections say between 250 and 400 million people will need new homes in new locations within the next 80 years, while devastating consequences are expected for agricultural hubs along the Nile, Mekong and other rivers.

The council discussed pertinent legal questions, as the situation could result in millions of climate refugees from over two-thirds of UN member states.

Bogdan Aurescu, Romanian foreign minister and Co-Chair of the International Law Commission Study Group on Sea-Level Rise, said action needed to be taken to avoid situations of ‘de facto statelessness’.

As one out of every ten people are threatened by sea level rise, the impacts are already being seen across the world, with communities in Fiji, Vanuatu and elsewhere being forced to relocate.

Coral Pasisi, Director of Climate Change of the Pacific Community and President of the non-governmental organization, Tofia Niue, decried the international community’s lack of climate action. ‘This is a security issue of paramount importance to the Pacific Region,’ she said, as sea levels are expected to rise by at least one metre for most small islands by 2050.

Photo by Jieun Lim

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