Image: An internally displaced Somali girl carries a jerry-can of water in Galkayo, northwest of Somalia's capital Mogadishu
Thomas Mukoya  /  Reuters
An internally displaced Somali girl carries a jerry-can of water in Galkayo, northwest of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, Wednesday.
updated 7/21/2011 5:32:09 AM ET 2011-07-21T09:32:09

Climate change could result in "sudden and abrupt" shocks to countries around the world and have "far-reaching implications for global stability and security," a senior United Nations' official has warned.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that natural resources would be "at increasing risk from climate change and its impacts."

"There is a great deal of knowledge and analysis accumulated over many decades on the conditions and the triggers that can trip tensions and turmoil into conflict and war," he said.

"There can be little doubt today that climate change has potentially far-reaching implications for global stability and security in economic, social and environmental terms which will increasingly transcend the capacity of individual nation states to manage," Steiner added.

But he said there was "no reason" why the world could not avoid "escalating conflicts, tensions and insecurity related to a changing climate" if there was an effective response.

'Sharply intensify'
Steiner told the Security Council that climate change could potentially "sharply intensify" the displacement of people from some areas, "bringing communities into increasing competition for finite natural resources with world-wide repercussions for the stability of the global economy."

"Competition over scarce water and land, exacerbated by regional changes in climate, are already a key factor in local-level conflicts in Darfur, the Central African Republic, northern Kenya, and Chad, for example-when livelihoods are threatened by declining natural resources, people either innovate, flee or can be brought into conflict," he said.

"In total, 145 countries share one or more international river basins. Changes in water flows, amplified by climate change, could be a major source of tension between states, especially those that lack the capacity for co-management and cooperation," he added.

Steiner said it was difficult to say whether the severe drought in the Horn of Africa had ultimately been caused by greenhouse gases.

"There may be a climate change signature, but there is also natural variation and wider environmental change underway, such as deforestation, land degradation and over exploitation of other natural resources such as freshwaters," he said.

He pointed out that the world's population was nearly 7 billion and was expected to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050 "on a planet where resource constraints are rapidly emerging."

Video: Intense droughts hurt southern states (on this page)

Steiner admitted that no one had "perfect knowledge on current or future climate change," but said humans had never planned ahead based on "100 per cent certainty."

He said the warming trend over the last 50 years of an average 0.13 degrees Celsius each decade was nearly twice that for the last 100 years and that a recent study suggested there would be a global sea-level rise of a meter or more by the end of the century.

"A one-meter rise in sea level could, for example, flood 17 per cent of Bangladesh's land area; threaten large parts of coastal cities such as Lagos, Cape Town and elsewhere and overwhelm, along with storm surges, small island developing States from the Maldives to Tuvalu," he added.

"In 2010, over 90 per cent of disaster displacement [of people] within countries was caused by climate-related hazards, primarily floods and storms," Steiner said. "Climate scenarios expect such weather events to increase and or intensify as a result of accelerating climate change."

He said climate change was giving new access to natural resources in the Arctic, highlighting "major untapped reserves of oil, gas and mineral."

Steiner also questioned whether "territorial sovereignty issues" might increase political tensions.

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Video: Intense droughts hurt southern states

  1. Closed captioning of: Intense droughts hurt southern states

    >>> now to the unseasonably early and particularly brutal national drought already taking a early and brutal drought. if the forecasts are accurate, this drought could become one of the nation's worsts. it comes on the heels of a string of severe weather systems in recent months, from that rare and remarkable dust storm in phoenix to the devastating and deadly tornadoes that stunned the midwest. so just why are we seeing these extreme systems? damon morgland is with friends of the earth , and he joins us this afternoon. good afternoon, damon. we add the flooding in north dakota , a string of poppy .tornadoes, are we seeing the beginning of climate change ?

    >> it certainly seems to be the case. scientists have long been telling us these kind of intense, ferocious storms, floods, droughts and wildfires were exactly the kind of thing we'll be seeing. you know, as we pump tens of millions of tons of atmosphere-warming gases into the atmosphere every day, we can expect to see this kind of problem, because we have the evaporation of water, we have the heating of the air, and in turn, we have these intense downpours and other kinds of storms. this may be the new scary normal we'll be facing.

    >> is this about to become the norm for this country?

    >> it's not just this country, of course. we're facing extraordinary droughts and wildfires, floodings all around the world, not to mention, of course, the extraordinary melton of sing of sea ice . you have to put it in perspective. for example, the last decade is the warmest on record.

    >> how much will this cost in real terms , in dollar terms to this nation?

    >> i think we're absolutely already facing billions of damages. this extraordinary drought in texas , for example, where we have all of the counties in texas being deciding nated as disaster zones, the estimate for that alone is $4 billion. it's interesting to know that one of the two largest reinsurance companies on the planet has now said, look, the only plausible explanation for the extraordinary weather storms is climate change . so i think you see.

    >> 4 billion for texas , but overall, what do you expect the figure is nationally?

    >> i think we're seeing tens, if not hundreds of billions, when you look at the extraordinary floods and problems around the planet?


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