Impacts of Climate Change Go Well beyond ‘the Strictly Environmental’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Security Council Debate
Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Security Council debate, “Understanding and Addressing Climate‑related Security Risks”, in New York today:
I commend the Security Council for focusing its attention on climate‑related security risks. I would like to address four key issues today: firstly, the nature of the challenges to our common security posed by climate risks; secondly, the impacts of climate change; thirdly, the actions being taken by the United Nations system to tackle these; and finally, what we need to ask of all of us to ensure we continue to centrally integrate climate concerns in our security considerations.
1. It is clear that climate change is a real threat and it is proceeding at a relentless pace. Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2015, 2016 and 2017 were the three warmest years on record. The level of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere continues to rise. This build‑up means that we are at increasing risk from heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires — and we are now seeing all of these things happening more frequently.
While the impact of climate change may be spread unevenly across different regions today, no country will be spared from its consequences in the long term. But we see disproportional effects on socially vulnerable and marginalized groups. We must act together, with a joint vision and a commitment to multilateral cooperation. This is our only chance at finding effective and sustainable solutions to this challenge.
2. The impacts of climate change go well beyond the strictly environmental. Climate change is inextricably linked to some of the most pressing security challenges of our time. It is no coincidence that the countries most vulnerable to climate change are often those most vulnerable to conflict and fragility. Fragile countries are in danger of becoming stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster. Where resilience is eroded, communities may be displaced and exposed to exploitation.
That said, the impact of climate change on security can take many different shapes, as the concept note for this debate argues. This includes loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and risks to the natural resource base. Many of these manifestations become visible only over time. The Lake Chad Basin is grappling with many of these challenges. Having just returned from a joint visit to the region with the African Union and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ms. Margot Wallström, I saw the situation on the ground in all its complexity and urgency.
The Basin is experiencing a crisis brought on by a combination of political, socioeconomic, humanitarian and environmental factors. The drastic shrinking of Lake Chad by more than 90 per cent since the 1960s has led to environmental degradation, socioeconomic marginalization and insecurity affecting 45 million people. Exacerbated competition over scant resources and the vicious cycle of risk and vulnerability have decreased the resilience of populations to cope with humanitarian crises. Declining economic activity and agricultural loss have led to a lack of employment opportunities across the region. The resulting socioeconomic marginalization has exposed populations, in particular the young, to the risk of violent extremism and provided breeding grounds for recruitment by groups such as Boko Haram.
The Boko Haram insurgency in north‑east Nigeria and neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger has left over 10 million people displaced and resulted in massive destruction of basic infrastructure, health and educational facilities, commercial buildings, private houses and agricultural assets. The multidimensional nature of this crisis underlines the complex relationship between climate change and conflict. Climate security risk assessments and reporting from local, national and regional levels should be considered as an early warning for conflict prevention.
We must understand climate change as one issue in a web of factors that can lead to conflict. Within this web, climate change acts as a threat multiplier, applying additional stress on prevailing political, social and economic pressure points. As the Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission said to me during our visit: “At the end of the day what was the origin of this conflict? The disappearance of the lake was a key factor.” In Bol, the Lake has shrunk by 90 per cent in just a few decades. Action on climate change is urgent and an integral part of building a culture of prevention and ensuring peace.
3. The United Nations system is tackling climate risks on several fronts. During the last 18 months, the Security Council has recognized the adverse effects of climate change on stability in several geographical areas — the Lake Chad Basin, West Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.
The United Nations system takes seriously its responsibility to provide integrated analysis to the Security Council as it discusses these issues. In that spirit, we are determined to fully mobilize the United Nations capacity to understand and respond to climate‑related security risks at all levels. We are increasing our climate‑related security risk assessments and management strategies.
We are strengthening our capacity to understand the impact of climate change on security; to integrate our findings into assessment and planning processes; and to better coordinate efforts between system entities. For example, the Secretary‑General’s forthcoming report on the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) will report on recent developments involving the climate‑security nexus in the region. The recalibrated United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel is similarly climate‑oriented, focusing on building resilience, improving management of natural resources, and decreasing malnutrition and food insecurity. By supporting climate‑smart agriculture and resilient pastoralism at the regional level, the United Nations will contribute to strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacities to the impact of climate change of rural women and their communities. The United Nations is also supporting ongoing efforts by the member States of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to successfully implement their Stabilization Strategy and Programme, including the development plan for recharging the Lake. At the international level, the United Nations can help to connect efforts and ensure climate‑related frameworks are linked up and complement one another. We will support efforts to set the global resilience agenda to achieve sustainable development.
4. What is our ask? We need to support programmes that place women and youth at the heart of our efforts. We know that the impact of climate change is felt disproportionately by women. Desertification means women must travel larger distances to fetch water and food, forcing them to miss out on education and economic opportunities in the long term. Youth without jobs will take an alternate route to terrorism. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for instance, is already addressing these challenges through programmes providing sturdier and larger fishing nets to increase the catch of local fisherwomen and men. These programmes need urgent investments to scale.
The reality today is a very different one. The challenge and the danger of climate change are today very clear, and present dangers that virtually every country has accepted and realizes, and calls for dramatic actions. As the Secretary‑General has said, climate change is moving faster than we are. We count on the Security Council to do its part to help humankind keep pace.