During a speech at the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro called for a global refocusing of attention away from war and onto combating the worldwide effects of climate change.
“It has been a year in which humanity lost and without hesitation has advanced the times of extinction,” he said. “It would seem as though the global leadership has made enemies with life."
Petro called for peace talks to address conflicts in Ukraine and between Israel and Palestine. In Colombia, where conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions more over the course of decades, Petro is working toward peace deals with rebel groups and gangs.
Instead of continued fighting, Petro said, the world ought to focus its attention on the changing climate.
"I propose ending war so we have the time to save ourselves," Petro said.
Petro spoke in particular about the plight of climate refugees, which has already begun and could sweep up some 3 billion people in the coming decades.
Colombia, he said, will become a desert, and its people will be compelled to move, "no longer attracted by the sequins of the wealth, but by something simpler and more vital: water."
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The U.N. is already reckoning with the scale of the challenge: Areport last year found there were more than 59 million people worldwide who had been internally displaced in their countries, most of them by climate-related disasters.
That population is greater than those forcibly displaced by conflict worldwide, the U.N. says.
Meanwhile, experts say the climate will play a greater part in natural disasters now and going forward, like the flooding in Libya that killed more than 11,000 and wildfires in Greece and Hawaii that have destroyed whole towns and displaced thousands.
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