President of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly Warns the Climate Crisis is Unfolding Rapidly

President of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly Warns the Climate Crisis is Unfolding Rapidly

UNITED NATIONS - President of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Ambassador Dennis Francis, has warned the international community that the climate crisis is unfolding rapidly, current efforts are inadequate, “and we are racing against the clock”.

Addressing the Breakfast summit on Sea Level Rise, Francis, who is also the Trinidad and Tobago ambassador to the United Nations, said that for some one “hailing from a small island state region, I am wholeheartedly determined to ensure it receives the attention it deserves”.

He said one consistent message resonating throughout this week here is that the climate crisis is unfolding rapidly and that “our focus is on transcending conventional climate policy processes to embrace more inclusive and innovative approaches to climate change, including sea-level rise.

“The multifaceted crises we face transcend borders and span generations.  Among them, climate change stands as perhaps the most formidable of all. For many, especially Small Island Developing States, it represents an existential threat. This is not speculation or over exaggeration. It is real. ”

The Trinidad and Tobago diplomat said that accordingly, there is a clear expectation for the United Nations to substantially intensify its efforts to address its diverse ramifications.

“Indeed, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates that global sea levels will rise between 15 and 30 centimeters, on average, with greater increases expected in equatorial regions. ”

Francis said extreme sea-level events, which used to occur once every century,  could become an annual phenomenon by the close of this century and that a staggering 900 million people living in low-lying coastal zones are at risk of losing their homes due to rising sea levels and climate impacts.

“This issue extends far beyond coastal populations – it affects every continent and region, leaving no one immune from potential catastrophe. Fertile river deltas like the Mississippi, Mekong, and Nile – the world’s breadbaskets – are sinking. ”

He said urgent, substantial action is imperative to preserve their productivity and the multitude of livelihoods that depend on them.

“Rising temperatures and ocean acidification also severely impact fish populations and their ecosystems -exacerbating the challenges faced by hundreds of millions worldwide. ”

Francis said beyond the crushing impacts on livelihoods and communities, sea-level rise carries further implications, spanning environmental, legal, political, technical, economic, cultural, and human rights dimensions.

“Not only do we risk losing land, but also the rich cultural and historical heritage of these islands and regions that have helped to shape people’s identities. As the adage goes: “Culture is the compass that guides us, and when it is lost, we lose our way in the world.”

The UNGA president said that it is in international forums like the UN, “we must no longer perceive these consequences, including climate-induced displacement, as issues solely afflicting developing countries.

“This is a global challenge requiring solidarity and unity among all nations. But we must be mindful that it also raises important questions about the essence of our identities as sovereign, and united, nations.

“Sea-level rise threatens the statehood and maritime territorial integrity of countries, particularly for Pacific SIDS.  ”

Ambassador Francis said that the United Nations should safeguard the inalienability of the affected countries’ sovereignty and that the international community must act now, as this challenge cannot rest solely on the shoulders of frontline communities.

“We must strengthen adaptive capacities, resilience, and mitigate climate-related losses and damages through quick impact projects and other solutions.  We must forge strong partnerships to address the adverse impacts of sea-level rise – pooling resources, knowledge, and technology.

“Let us raise our collective ambition and take bold, much-needed action,” he said, adding “our meeting today strategically precedes significant landmark summits like COP28 and the 4th SIDS Conference.

“I call on you all to prioritize the issue of sea-level rise,” he said, promising to work with the Global Centre for Climate Mobility to follow-up on the commitments made, ensuring accountability and continuous momentum towards our shared goals.

“We must see this issue for what it is: an existential threat to nations, peoples, culture, and heritage. I have full confidence that you will accord this matter the gravity it rightfully deserves,” the UNGA president added.