Islands First

 

Security Council Open Debate

“Maintenance of international peace and security:
the implications of climate change.”

Statement by H.E President Marcus Stephen, M.P.

on behalf of the
Pacific Small Island Developing States, Maldives, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste

20 July 2011
New York, New York

Check against delivery

I would like to begin by thanking Germany for hosting this important debate on climate change and its implications for the maintenance of international peace and security.

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States – the most vulnerable region to climate change – namely Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu, and my country, the Republic of Nauru, as well as the countries of Maldives, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste.

Mr. President,

Last month, the International Energy Agency announced that, in 2010, carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest level in history. Last year also tied for the hottest year on record and the volume of Arctic sea ice dropped to its lowest level since measurements began. All while catastrophic droughts, forest fires, and floods wreaked havoc on countries around the world. Scientists are now projecting that seas will rise by a meter or more by the end of the century – a scale that could wipe out many small islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. This despite 20 years of negotiations to reduce green house gas emissions to a level that is safe.

We must now come to terms with an unsettling reality: there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that serious impacts are now unavoidable and we must prepare.

In my frustration, I often wonder where we would be if the roles were reversed. What if the pollution coming from our island nations was threatening the very existence of the major emitters? What would be the nature of today’s debate under those circumstances?

But that is not the world we live in, and for us, this is not a hypothetical exercise. Many of our countries face the single greatest security challenge of all from the adverse impacts of climate change: our survival.

It is for this reason that we have come to the Security Council today.

In climate change, our islands face dangerous and potentially catastrophic impacts that threaten to destabilize our societies and political institutions. Our food security, water security, and public safety are already being undermined. Sea level rise is eroding our coastlines and in some cases damaging critical infrastructure. Territory loss could disrupt traditional systems of land ownership and spark conflicts over this and other increasingly scarce resources. Eventually, some islands may disappear altogether, and so with it thousands of years of cultural heritage. This would force large numbers of our citizens to relocate; first internally, then across borders. Even with an ambitious new agreement to address climate change, many of these impacts are now unavoidable.

The Security Council has recognized that it has a role in preventing conflict before it occurs, not just facilitating its resolution afterward. For this reason, it has recognized the necessity to address the “root causes” of conflict: unconventional security threats that can give rise to social tension and civil unrest such as poverty and development, competition over natural resources, and HIV/AIDS. For these issues and others, the Security Council has evaluated the problems and, in concert with other organs of the United Nations, deployed a variety of tools to address them. We ask no less of you today. The international response to climate change must be comprehensive, particularly given its global nature and its implications for every aspect of society. Make no mistake, the UNFCCC is and must remain the primary forum for developing an international strategy to mitigate climate change, mobilize financial resources, and facilitate adaptation planning and project implementation. The General Assembly must continue to address the links between climate change and sustainable development.

Likewise, the Security Council has a clear role in coordinating our response to the security implications of climate change. In the 2009 UNGA resolution on climate change and its possible security implications, we agreed that all relevant organs of the United Nations, within their respective mandates, should intensify their efforts to address climate change, including its possible security implications. An effective international response requires disaster planning and preparedness, detailed vulnerability and risk assessments, more effective multilateral coordination, and preventative diplomacy.

In our conversations with Security Council members, we have heard loud and clear that you understand the security challenges faced by the Pacific and other island nations; that you stand in solidarity with us. However, solidarity demands more than sympathetic words. Demonstrate it by formally recognizing that climate change is a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, and carries the potential to destabilize governments and ignite conflict. Neither have ever led to the disappearance of an entire nation, though that is what we are confronted with today.

You have also asked us what concrete steps the Security Council can take to address this issue. Allow me to tell you. The Council should start by requesting the immediate appointment of a special representative on climate and security. This individual’s primary responsibility should be to analyze projected security impacts of climate change so that the Council and all Member States can understand what lies ahead. The Council should also request an assessment of the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to these impacts, so that vulnerable countries can be assured that it is up to the task.

These proposals are the absolute minimum required to move the international community from a culture of reaction to one of preparedness. As the Secretary-General concluded in his report on climate change and its possible security implications, “[T]he international community must anticipate and prepare itself to address a number of largely unprecedented challenges posed by climate change for which existing mechanisms may prove inadequate.”

Mr. President,

Many countries have expressed concerns about the Security Council encroaching on the mandate of the General Assembly and the UNFCCC. We understand and share this concern, which is why our proposals have been narrowly tailored to address the security implications of climate change. However, we are more concerned by the physical encroachment of the rising seas on our island nations.

Mr. President,

We are deeply disappointed that there will be no formal outcome to this debate. Let history record that, once again, we have sounded the alarm and the world chose not to act. The Security Council must reflect current geopolitical realities if it is to remain relevant, both in its membership and the substance of its work. We applaud its recent decision to explore the security implications of such divergent topics as development; cultural and religious tolerance; HIV/AIDS; and women, peace and security. Yet the Council would render itself irrelevant if it chose to ignore the biggest security threat of our time.

Let me be absolutely clear, the security risks of climate change are all the more reason to reach a legally binding agreement under the UNFCCC with urgency. The international community must work towards more ambitious emissions reductions from all major emitters. The current pledges are grossly inadequate and would condemn the many small Pacific and AOSIS UN Member States – and the world – to a future marked by widespread conflict and unrest.

Mr. President,

The Security Council is entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security under the United Nations Charter. Many of the world’s current and aspiring powers sit before me today. I urge you: do not bury your heads in the sand. Seize this opportunity to lead. I implore you to fulfill your mandate by dealing responsibly with the security implications of climate change.

Thank you.