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U.N. chief warns of climate security threats

Drought linked to global warming is a security threat to the African continent and Mediterranean region including Europe, the U.N. chief said.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Drought linked to global warming is a security threat to the African continent and Mediterranean region including Europe, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday.

On a trip to the South Pacific, where sea level rise is fast eroding small islands, Guterres drew attention to the global climate crisis that he calls his topmost priority. He sought to build momentum for deeper cuts to atmospheric heat-trapping carbon emissions globally, saying the challenge is increasingly a security matter for countries.

“We see already today, heat waves killing people in Europe in large numbers,” Guterres said in his remarks at the end of a high-level political dialogue by the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva, Fiji, where the international organization has its secretariat. “We see glaciers receding, corals bleaching — everywhere in the world. We see food security for the whole world being put into question.”

Guterres said Pacific Island nations have “the moral authority” to tell the world that global warming needs to be reversed, partly because they have been leading by example by setting some "very ambitious" targets for mitigating the effects of a rapidly changing environment.

The U.N. chief said he was "surprised" by the innovation and effort he saw among island nations "to be fully in line with" the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.

“This should be an example for the most developed countries in this world,” he said. In December, almost 200 nations adopted a rulebook for the Paris Agreement that sets out how nations must report their reductions in carbon emissions and pay for further climate action.

Zero net emissions by 2050

The Earth’s average surface temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius since the late 19th century, creating  a climate emergency driven largely by fossil fuel burning that has put increased levels of carbon dioxide and other warming gases into the atmosphere, according to the U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

Much of the heating has occurred in recent decades, with the five warmest years on record taking place just since 2010.

“We are not yet winning the battle,” Guterres said. “We are not yet winning the battle in relation to climate change and we are not yet winning the battle in relation to oceans, which are so clearly interlinked with climate change.”

Since the world’s average temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree C. since pre-industrial levels, the real choice posed by the Paris Agreement is whether to allow the planet to heat up by a half-degree or 1 degree more.

Greenhouse gases linger in the atmosphere; much of the harm is delayed by decades. The scientific community has determined that to reach the goal of limiting further increases to a half-degree more — or 1.5 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels — nations must have zero net emissions by 2050.

"We are not globally on track" to meet this target, said Guterres. "The Pacific Islands are — but the world is not."

Guterres dismissed critics who argue that the objective is not possible, or that the transformational challenges that will be needed in energy, industry and agriculture are too daunting. He said all that is required is enough political will.

“We need to mobilize the international community as a whole to address climate change in the context of all the other problems that we are facing and all the other battles that we are not winning,” said Guterres, who plans to host a "Climate Action Summit" for world leaders in September on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly gathering at U.N. headquarters in New York.

“We are not winning the battle of the oceans," he said. "We are not winning the battle of displacement and we need to be able to convert our efforts to take into account the questions of security, the questions of resilience and all the problems that we face.”