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Rising sea levels threaten ‘mass exodus on a biblical scale’

UN secretary general António Guterres has warned that without more concerted efforts to reduce emissions and ensure environmental justice across the globe, low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear forever.

Addressing the UN security council on Tuesday, secretary general António Guterres warned that an increase in the pace at which sea levels are rising could spark a ‘mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale.’

The ominous statement follows a new study that provides the most accurate estimates yet of sea level rises due to the melting of Earth’s two ice sheets.

As it confirms, climate change is causing sea levels to rise faster than for 3,000 years, bringing a ‘torrent of trouble’ to almost one billion people.

‘Global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000 years,’ said Guterres.

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

A sea level rise of about 50cm by 2100 is likely, but the World Meteorological Organisation said there would be a 2-3 metre rise over the next 2,000 years if heating were limited to 1.5C, and 2-6m if it were limited to 2C.

A UN report said there was ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’ and current national targets, if met, would mean a 2.4C rise in temperature.

Floods in Makassar City, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, on Monday.

According to these findings, even if global heating is ‘miraculously’ limited to 1.5 °C, 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.

Acutely endangering those living in coastal areas like Bangladesh, China, India, and the Netherlands, some nations could cease to exist entirely – ‘drowned under the waves,’ in Guterres’ words.

It isn’t solely low-lying communities that are at risk, either, as ‘mega-cities on every continent’ (from London to Los Angeles and Bangkok to Buenos Aires) will likely face ‘serious effects,’ without urgent action.

Stressing the necessity of more concerted efforts to reduce emissions and ensure environmental justice across the globe, Guterres said that sea level rise was a threat-multiplier which, by damaging lives, economies, and infrastructure, had ‘dramatic implications’ for world peace and security.

For this reason, he called for the development of new international frameworks to be implemented in preparation for the refugee crisis that will occur when millions are made homeless – and even stateless – by this issue.

‘The danger is especially acute for nearly 900 million people who live in coastal zones at low elevations — that’s one out of ten people on Earth,’ he said.

‘Low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear for ever. And we would see ever fiercer competition for fresh water, land and other resources.’