The Associated Press , Athens | Wed, 11/04/2009 9:32 PM | World
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday warned that the problem of environmental refugees from developing countries is increasing the pressure for a climate change agreement at an upcoming conference in Copenhagen.
Ban said that the global talks on climate change have also reached a “critical period” in the weeks ahead of Dec. 7-18 climate conference.
On Tuesday, African nations staged a one-day walkout from the U.N. climate talks in Barcelona, Spain, to press demands that negotiations focus more heavily on carbon emission cuts by rich nations. The protesting countries said they would be hardest hit by the effects of global warming.
“Negotiations have recognized that migration is a likely consequence of climate impacts. Populations will relocate due to more extreme weather, including prolonged droughts, intensive storms and wildfires,” Ban said.
“In Africa, expanding desertification is … prompting more people to leave rural areas. So far these movements have occurred within countries. But that could very well change over time,” he said.
Ban spoke at an international conference on immigration Wednesday in Greece, where he began a two-day official visit.
“Protecting vulnerable communities must be a priority,” he said. “We need action in Copenhagen. We will continue to push for the most ambitious agreement possible.”
In London on Tuesday, Ban acknowledged that agreements on firm carbon emission cuts may not be reached in Copenhagen, but that progress toward that goal could be made.
On Wednesday, he met Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and President Karolos Papoulias.
Ban urged Greece’s new Socialist government to improve screening procedures for asylum seekers.
“I am … aware that the various U.N. refugee and human rights mechanisms have expressed their concerns about the conditions of migrants detained in Greece,” he said.
Greek officials on Wednesday promised to review bureaucratic procedures for asylum seekers and speed up the application process.
According to European Union figures, nearly half of the total number of illegal immigrants that reached the EU borders last year, arrived through Greece.
Nearly 20,000 asylum applications were filed in Greece last year, but only 379 people were granted international protection, the U.N. refugee agency said.
Ban also said his special envoys had made “reasonable progress” in talks to reunite divided Cyprus and were ready to restart talks on a name dispute between Greece and its neighboring Macedonia.