UN Chief: Rising Seas a ‘Death Sentence’ for Some Nations

    15 February 2023

    The United Nations chief is warning that, since 1900, sea levels around the world have risen at a faster rate than before that time.

    The increase puts some countries like Bangladesh, China, India and the Netherlands at risk and endangers 900 million people living in low-lying coastal areas.

    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the statements Tuesday in a speech to the U.N. Security Council. He declared that sea levels will rise a lot even if the average world temperature increase is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    FILE - A woman washes her cooking pot in the flood waters outside her house in Sreenagar on July 20, 2020. (Photo by Munir Uz zaman / AFP)
    FILE - A woman washes her cooking pot in the flood waters outside her house in Sreenagar on July 20, 2020. (Photo by Munir Uz zaman / AFP)

    Guterres warned that the Earth is likely on a path to warming. He said that amounts to "a death sentence" for many countries, especially small island nations.

    Guterres also said many large cities face the threat of rising sea levels. The cities he listed include Cairo, Lagos and Maputo in Africa, and Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Mumbai and Shanghai in Asia. Other threatened cities include Copenhagen and London in Europe, and Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Santiago in the Americas.

    The World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, released data Tuesday on the danger of rising seas, Guterres said. "Global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000 years," he said. "The global ocean has warmed faster over the past century than at any time in the past 11,000 years."

    The WMO said the sea level will rise two to three meters over the next 2,000 years if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. With a two-degree-Celsius increase, seas could rise to six meters, and with a five-degree-Celsius increase, seas could rise 22 meters.

    The consequences are unthinkable, Guterres said. Low-lying communities and whole countries could disappear. The world would see a mass exodus of whole populations on a biblical scale. Guterres said competition for fresh water, land and other resources would become fiercer.

    The 2015 Paris Agreement called for nations to limit the rise of the average world temperature to two degrees Celsius by 2100 compared to the time before modern industry. It said nations should keep the rise as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    The Security Council meeting also heard speakers from about 75 countries. All voiced concerns. Some worried about the survival of their countries.

    Samoa's U.N. ambassador, Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Pa'olelei Luteru, spoke for the Alliance of Small Island States. He said the island nations "are among the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases that drive climate change and sea level rise. Yet, we face some of the most severe consequences of rising sea levels,"

    He said there is an urgent need for wealthy nations to fulfill their international promises on climate change and help poor countries.

    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield agreed. She said that "the threat of sea level rise is real, it is a direct result of our climate crisis, and it is a matter of international peace and security."

    "The worst impacts can be avoided, but we have to act now, and we have to act together," Thomas-Greenfield said.

    I'm mario Ritter, Jr.

    Edith Lederer and Jennifer McDermott reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    mass exodus –idiom (sometimes considered redundant) a situation in which a lot of people leave a place to go to another place

    biblical scale –idiom to a very large or shocking extent

    emit –v. to give off or release into the air

    greenhouse gases –n. (pl.) gasses in the atmosphere that are believed to trap heat such as carbon dioxide or water vapor

    consequences –n. (pl.) the results of some action in the past

    impact –n. the result of an action