Security Council: Sea-Level Rise

Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council open debate will be made available after its conclusion.


ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stressing that “rising seas are sinking futures”, said that sea-level rise is not only a threat in itself, but also a threat-multiplier. Rising seas threaten lives, and jeopardize access to water, food and health care, while saltwater intrusion can decimate jobs and entire economies in key industries like agriculture, fisheries and tourism. Citing the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest data, he added that global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000 years. The global ocean has warmed faster over the past century than at any time in the past 11,000 years, he said, adding that, even if global heating is miraculously limited to 1.5°C, there will still be a sizeable sea-level rise. If temperatures rise by 2°C, that level rise could double, he said, pointing out that, under any scenario, countries like Bangladesh, China, India and the Netherlands are all at risk. Further, he added, mega-cities on every continent will face serious impacts including Cairo, Lagos, Maputo, Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Santiago.

Noting that nearly 900 million people – 10 per cent of the world’s population – live in coastal zones at low elevations, he pointed out that, while people in small island developing States in the Western Pacific are facing sea-level rise up to four times the global average, in the Caribbean, rising seas have contributed to the devastation of local livelihoods in tourism and agriculture. Flooding and coastal erosion in West Africa are damaging infrastructure and communities, undermining farming and often costing lives while in North Africa, saltwater intrusion is contaminating land and freshwater resources, destroying livelihoods, and Antarctica is losing an average of 150 billion tons of ice mass annually. Himalayan melts have worsened flooding in Pakistan, he said, warning that as these glaciers recede over the coming decades, the rivers will shrink. Many low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear forever, he said, adding: “We would witness a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale.” Noting that this will lead to ever-fiercer competition for freshwater, land and other resources, he said the international community must address the climate crisis which is the root cause of rising seas. The world is hurtling past the 1.5°C warming limit that a liveable future requires, and with present policies, is careening towards 2.8°C – “a death sentence for vulnerable countries”, he said.

Stressing the need to provide developing countries the resources to build resilience against climate disaster, he said 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. Also pointing to the need to address how environmental disasters like rising sea levels undermine security, he noted that the Peacebuilding Fund is actively supporting grass-roots resilience efforts against the effects of climate change. It is vital to improve foresight and early warnings to prepare and protect vulnerable communities, he said, highlighting the Organization’s plan to ensure that early warning systems against natural disasters protect every person on Earth within five years.

Further, the international community must address the legal and human rights impact of rising seas and shrinking landmasses, he said, adding that this means not only international refugee law, but also innovative legal and practical solutions to forced human displacement. “People’s human rights do not disappear because their homes do,” he said, drawing attention to the solutions proposed in 2022 by the International Law Commission, including continuing statehood despite loss of territory, assigning portions of territory to an affected State or even establishing confederations of States. The Security Council has a critical role to play in building the political will required to address the devastating security challenges arising from rising seas, he underscored.

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