UN Security Council holds first-ever debate on sea level rise from climate change

Officials from the United Nations and other international organizations convened to discuss the legal, economic and social impacts of climate change.

UNITED NATIONS - Members of the United Nations Security Council held their first-ever debate on sea level rise Tuesday, according to a UN press release.

Hosted in New York, the debate was titled "Sea-Level Rise: Implications for International Peace and Security."

Council members addressed the various implications of rising seas, such as increased competition for water and land, compromised economies and livelihoods and the destruction of homes and states.

"The impact of rising seas is already creating new sources of instability and conflict," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who opened the meeting.


Increasing rate of sea level rise

Guterras cited the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which stated that global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000 years.

According to the WMO, the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1993, with a 10 millimeter (0.4 inch) increase since January 2020 to a new record high in 2022.

"Although this is still measured in terms of millimetres per year, it adds up to half to 1 meter (1.6 to 3.1 feet) per century and that is a long-term and major threat to many millions of coastal dwellers and low-lying states," the WMO said.

According to the UN, this danger is especially acute for about 900 million people living in coastal zones – or 1 in 10 people on Earth.

Legal, economic and social implications of climate change

Other officials also addressed the UN Security Council on the threats posed to those in high-risk environments.

President of the UN General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi cited estimates that between 250 million and 400 million people may need to be relocated in less than 80 years, due to rising sea levels.

He also warned of the climate impacts on food-producing river deltas, and noted the role of climate action as a key tool for peace building.

"What is needed now – as ever – is the political will to act," Kőrösi said.

The legal implications were also addressed by Bogdan Aurescu, Romanian foreign minister and co-chair of the International Law Commission Study Group on Sea-Level Rise.

Aurescu stressed the need to better harness international law to support countries most at risk from sea level rise, according to the UN.

The connection between climate impact and legal action on the international stage was emphasized by Coral Pasasi, director of Climate Change of the Pacific Community and president of the non-governmental organization Tofia Niue.

"This is a security issue of paramount importance to the Pacific Region," Pasasi said.

According to the UN, Pasasi also expressed her hope that the UN General Assembly will adopt a resolution that requests an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of nations in regards to climate change.