Melting Himalayan Glaciers Pose Security Risk, UNEP Says
SINGAPORE -- Global warming will cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt, leading to mass migration and possibly conflicts over valuable resources such as agricultural land and fresh water, the U.N. Environment Programme chief said.
Achim Steiner, speaking ahead of the U.N. Security Council's first-ever debate on climate change, said that global warming should be considered a security issue as shortages of water and fertile land in the next 10 to 20 years may lead to conflicts.
The melting of the Himalayan glaciers is expected to displace millions of people from low-lying land as sea levels rise, and will disrupt river flows and irrigation of agricultural land.
"When people start moving, it puts people into competition with one another," Steiner told Reuters in a phone interview from Nairobi. "Where will these people go? Where will they run to where other communities want them?"
The Himalayan glaciers, which feed rivers in India and China, are among the fastest-melting in the world.
Scientists have said the Himalayan glaciers could shrink to 100,000 square km (38,610 square miles) by the 2030s, from 500,000 square km (193,100 square miles) now, if the current pace of global warming continues.
Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warned last year that the melting of Himalayan glaciers could cause serious flooding in Bangladesh, sparking a mass migration into India.
Steiner, who will be in Singapore on Thursday for the Champions of the Earth awards that are presented each year to seven environmental leaders, cited Africa as an example of how climate change could threaten peace and security.
He said fights over agricultural land have led to some of the conflicts in Sudan, and that climate change could lead to an even bigger flood of illegal immigrants from Africa into Europe.
He also warned that global warming, largely caused by industrialised countries, would hit developing countries hardest, stoking tensions between rich and poor nations.
As a result, the OECD nations need to help developing countries in Asia and elsewhere adopt environmentally friendly technology, and provide subsidies to help countries invest in wind and solar farms.
"The OECD nations should have a vested interest in supporting countries in Asia in the future of energy management," he said.
The U.N. climate panel earlier this month issued its strongest warning yet about the impact of global warming.
The report, based on the findings of 2,500 scientists, said that more than one billion people may face a shortage of fresh water by 2050, and that millions will be threatened by floods as sea levels rise by the 2080s.
While the U.N. meeting on Tuesday is a sign that governments are paying more attention to environmental concerns, an international deal on how to tackle climate change will depend in part on the outcome of world trade talks because they will decide the concessions that countries want to take, Steiner said.
"They define to a great extent the climate of compromise and the willingness to negotiate," he said.