GENEVA (Reuters) - Global warming must be seen as an economic and security threat, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday, calling on poorer countries to speak louder about their climate change needs.
In an interview, Annan said he chose to focus his retirement energies on environmental risks because he believes that left unchecked, they could destabilize both rich and poor countries.
“We do have economic bases for conflict, and tensions, that we sometimes ignore,” he told Reuters in Geneva on the opening day of his Global Humanitarian Forum’s two-day meeting on the human impact of climate change.
“When we talk in terms of security and safety, we tend to focus on political conflicts, military conflicts, when some of the sources can be fights over scarcity and resources,” he said.
Politicians focused on salvaging the troubled global economy should not forget the risks their populations face from global warming, Annan said. “They need to pay attention because there will be tensions over scarce resources.”
The six-year-old conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, which the United Nations estimates has killed 300,000 people, is an example where environmental pressures morphed into war, and the drylands of East Africa and the Middle East are also vulnerable to added stresses from global warming, he said.
Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives also face the risk of disruption and panic if sea levels rise as scientists predict in response to a build-up of heat-trapping emissions from cars and factories, the former U.N. chief said.
“For these people there is nothing abstract about climate change,” Annan said, while underlining the risks are not limited to poor, small, and island states.
New York City will need to ensure its bridges and tunnels are passable during a major storm or tsunami, and other cities worldwide need contingency plans for emergencies, Annan said.
“It does require planning and creativity. This is something that we should think about not only for the poorer countries,” he said. “We are all in this together. We are all affected.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Annan told his group’s meeting that he was optimistic the world could agree on a climate change accord with the support of the U.S. administration of Barack Obama.
“Every year we delay, the greater the damage, the more extensive the human misery,” he said in remarks to the conference attended by senior U.N. and government officials.
Annan, 71, said he hoped their discussions on “the greatest environmental and humanitarian concern of our age” would set the stage for a deal in Copenhagen in December on a successor to the Kyoto accord, which regulates emissions of greenhouse gases.
“A new president and new administration in the United States have demonstrated their seriousness about combating climate change. Given that the U.S. is the greatest source of emissions, this raises optimism for Copenhagen and beyond,” he said.
Annan said it was “too early to tell” whether poor countries would get fair treatment under a successor deal, saying: “there are still quite a bit of negotiations and discussions to go.”
Climate experts have warned pledges by industrialized nations to cut emissions by 2020 fall far short of the deep cuts widely advocated to avert climate change.
Overall emissions cuts promised by industrialized nations in the run-up to December’s meeting now average between 10 and 14 percent below 1990 levels, according to Reuters calculations. U.N. climate experts say cuts must be in the 25-40 percent range below 1990 levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence and Stephanie Nebehay)
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