UN chief Antonio Guterres, glaciers, water scarcity, Himalayan rivers, UN Water Conference
In his latest report, Guterres has urged India to implement the remaining measures identified in consultation with his special representative and the United Nations | File Image

Rising sea levels can lead to mass exodus of entire populations on biblical scale: UN chief

Describing rising seas as “sinking futures”, the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres warned that at the rate sea levels are rising across the world, we could very well witness “a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale”.

Listing the consequences of rising sea levels, he added, low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear forever. Pointing out that the coastlines of some countries have already experienced triple the average rate of sea level rise, Guterres added that the danger is especially serious for nearly 900 million people who live in coastal zones at low elevations — that works out to be one out of ten people on earth.

Addressing the UN Security Council debate on the implications of rising sea levels on international peace and security, Guterres zeroed in on climate crisis as the root cause of the rising seas.

Climate crisis, the root cause of rising seas

Stating that first – we must address the root cause of rising seas, the climate crisis, he pointed out that our world is hurtling past the 1.5-degree warming limit that a livable future requires. And combined with present policies, the world is careening towards 2.8 degrees warming limit –which will be nothing short of “a death sentence for vulnerable countries”, Guterres said.

Last year, a report released by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation showed that the last eight years were on track to be the eight warmest on record.

The global ocean has warmed faster over the past century than at any time in the past 11,000 years.

Also read: Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees not possible now: Report

As every fraction of a degree counts, if temperatures rise by 2 degrees, that level rise could double, he said, adding that under any scenario, countries like Bangladesh, China, India and the Netherlands are all at risk. The mega-cities on every continent that he named which will face serious impacts were Lagos, Maputo, Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Santiago.

Further, Guterres said, “I have seen with my own eyes how people in Small Island Developing States in the Western Pacific are facing sea-rise levels up to four times the global average.” And, also cited the example of how Himalayan melts have worsened flooding in Pakistan.

But as these glaciers recede over the coming decades, over time, the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers will shrink, he warned, adding that rising sea levels combined with a deep intrusion of saltwater will make large parts of their huge deltas simply uninhabitable.

Also read: Global warming: Why each fractional degree change matters

Reduce emissions and ensure climate justice

Taking this dismal scenario into account, Guterres said that there is an urgent need for a more concerted action to reduce emissions and ensure climate justice.

Developing countries should step up and must garner the resources to adapt and build resilience against climate disaster. Among other things, this means delivering on the loss and damage fund, making good on the $100-billion climate finance commitment to developing countries, doubling adaptation finance, and leveraging massive private financing at a reasonable cost, he suggested.

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