Climate Change-induced Sea-Level Rise Direct Threat to Millions around World, Secretary-General Tells Security Council
Speakers Warn of Vanishing Coastlines, Endangered Nations, Forced Migration, Competition over Natural Resources
Speakers warned the international community that tensions are deepening as coastlines vanish, territories are lost, resources become scarce and masses are displaced, as the Security Council held its first ever open debate today on the impact of sea-level rise on international peace and security.
The world will witness “a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale”, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as he painted an alarming portrait of the emerging global security crisis that rising sea levels portend. Noting the phenomenon’s impact on lives and livelihoods in regions and ecosystems around the world, from the Caribbean to North Africa to the river basins that lie at the foot of the Himalayas, he said this will lead to ever-fiercer competition for fresh water, land and other resources.
Naming the many world cities that will be affected as the waters rise — from Cairo to New York to Santiago — he called on the Security Council to build the political will required to address the devastating security challenges arising from rising seas. The legal and human rights impact of the phenomenon is broad, he said, underscoring that they require innovative legal and practical solutions. Drawing attention to the solutions proposed by the International Law Commission, he stressed: “People’s human rights do not disappear because their homes do.”
Echoing that, Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, stressed: “You don’t need me to tell you that the displacement of hundreds of millions of people is a security risk.” The new legal questions provoked by climate change-induced sea-level rises are at the very core of national and State identity. He also pointed to food security issues, noting that much global agriculture is concentrated on coastal plains and low-lying islands. He also recalled Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which forced United Nations Headquarters in New York to close for three days. The Organization faced sharp criticism in the aftermath regarding its lack of preparation, he said, asking those present if the world is prepared.
Also briefing the Council today was Bogdan Aurescu, Co-Chair of the Study Group of the International Law Commission on sea-level rise in relation to international law, and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, who outlined the legal quandaries caused by climate-change-induced sea-level rise. As coasts are pushed landward, affecting baselines and the maritime zones that are measured from the baselines, there will be increased competition over natural resources, forced migration and displacement of populations. Further, it can prompt the loss of State territory, he noted, adding that the submerging of land poses obvious threats for the very existence of States — a novel situation for international law.
He highlighted the International Law Commission’s consideration of the topic “Sea-level rise in relation to international law” as well as collective regional and cross-regional declarations, such as the Pacific Islands Forum’s “Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise”. Preserving or “freezing” the baselines and outer limits of maritime zones is crucial to legal stability and security, he said, underlining that this means sea-level rise cannot be invoked for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty which established a maritime boundary. Further, to avoid possible situations of de facto statelessness, he suggested various measures including preserving the fundamental rights and identity of persons compelled to settle on the territory of third States. “Global solidarity is key here,” he said.
Bringing to the debate a small island developing States perspective, Coral Pasisi, Director of Climate Change of the Pacific Community and President of Tofia Niue, stressed that sea-level rise is a direct security threat, as well as a threat multiplier to the Blue Pacific Continent. “A threat to one’s security is best defined by the lens of those being impacted, not those who continue to be most responsible for its cause,” she explained. The Blue Pacific Continent is a quilt of geopolitical interests, forged through the World Wars, patchworked via the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coloured by globalization and now threatened to be torn by the impacts of sea-level rise and climate change, she said.
Highlighting various multilateral efforts that are already under way and seek to address the relationship between sea-level rise and security, she pointed to the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security, which elevates climate change as the single greatest threat to the security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific, the 2021 Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise and last year’s 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent, endorsed by Pacific Island Forum leaders. A fit-for-purpose Pacific Regional Security Assessment Guide is in the final process of being developed, she said, also highlighting the forthcoming General Assembly resolution requesting an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States in respect of climate change, championed by Vanuatu and supported by all Pacific nations.
Multiple security concerns rose to the surface in the ensuing debate, as more than 70 speakers addressed the Council. While some pointed to possible conflicts caused by a global competition for resources, others raised the question posed by lost territories and unstable coastal borders and warned that the mass displacement of populations will exacerbate tensions. However, many speakers had differing opinions on the precise role the Council should play, with some expressing concern about the “securitization” of the climate change debate.
Albania’s delegate was among those who expressed strong support for making climate change a core Council topic. “Denying it means sleepwalking into a disaster written in front of our eyes in capital letters,” he said, stressing the need to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on security. The Organization as a whole must increase cross-agency cooperation and the sharing of best practices, he said, voicing support for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Climate Change and Security.
Echoing the call for that appointment, the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia said that such an individual could strengthen the Organization’s ability to understand and respond sensitively to all facets of the challenge posed by climate-change-related sea-level rise — including its implications for statehood and other matters of international law. There is a distressing school of thought in international law that once rising seas inundate the land territory of a State, then that State automatically ceases to exist, he said, urging the Council to reject this position.
Verónica Nataniel Macamo Dlhovo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique, pointed out that small island developing States are some of the most peaceful nations in the world, but population displacement and loss of territory will deeply affect their own peace. Most African States have peacefully settled disputed maritime boundary claims but rising sea-levels will unravel maritime boundaries. Also spotlighting concerns relating to statehood, national identity, refugee status, State responsibility, access to resources and maritime jurisdiction, she said the international community must consider how to reaffirm the self-determination principle and the continuation of statehood after loss of territory.
The representative of Palau, speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, invited the Council to visit the Pacific and witness sea-level rise first-hand. Outlining many innovative solutions spearheaded in her region, she highlighted the “migration with dignity” strategy introduced in Kiribati and its purchase of land in Fiji. Tuvalu has launched an initiative to upload a virtual version of their country into the metaverse, she reported, while Vanuatu has requested an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the obligations of States in respect of climate change. Outlining action the Council could take to address sea-level rise risks, she reiterated her call to secure maritime zones, even in the face of rising sea levels.
The United States will not challenge maritime zones, that country’s representative said, even if they are not subsequently updated to reflect sea-level rise. Noting that this is consistent with the approach taken by the Pacific Islands Forum, she encouraged others to do the same. While cities and nations overtaken by the sea “should be the stuff of apocalypse novels and movies”, in fact, it is a real, global threat, she said, adding that more than 680 million people living in low-lying coastal areas — including fishermen in her home state of Louisiana — will lose their homes, livelihoods and communities.
The representative of Costa Rica, a small coastal country but a large ocean State, called on countries to halve greenhouse gas emissions and meet climate financing commitments. “This is not charity”, but a moral, environmental, and economic imperative, she said, also encouraging a discussion of the international law implications of acts that cause irreparable ecological damage, including a possible definition of ecocide.
In that vein, Ghana’s delegate declared: “Delaying action means being too late to make the needed difference.” He also drew attention to the long-delayed delivery of the $100 billion promised to developing countries in climate financing. States must strengthen existing mechanisms to peacefully resolve conflicts in the era of climate change, he stressed.
Morocco’s delegate, welcoming the work of the International Law Commission on the matter, urged the Council to consider climate change impacts on security before conflicts break out or worsen. By 2050, impacts such as drought or desertification are expected to compel as many as 216 million people to migrate, he pointed out.
For Japan’s delegate, the threat posed by sea-level rise was as critical as that posed by foreign invasion. However, while the Council should get involved when issues arise, that organ alone cannot offer a comprehensive solution, he pointed out, calling for more robust conversation between the Council and other entities, such as the Peacebuilding Commission.
Indonesia’s delegate emphasized that the Council must consolidate its effort to better respond to the security impacts of climate change and not to climate change itself. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must remain the leading forum for addressing climate change, he said, adding that all Council measures must be complementary in that regard.
On the other end of the spectrum, Brazil’s representative insisted that it does not fall within the Council’s mandate to discuss climate change. The securitization of this debate may prove itself undesirable and counterproductive. Noting that there is no evidence of climate change directly causing armed conflicts, he emphasized that the Council does not have the tools to fight climate change. Highlighting the importance of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Law Commission, he called on all developed countries to fulfil their long-overdue climate finance commitments.
Along similar lines, India’s delegate brought up the history of unkept promises on financial commitments, describing it as ironical that developing countries must bear the burden of industrializing without carbonizing while raising millions out of poverty. Climate change is more about development and less about peace and security, she said, adding that the Council is not the place to address it. There exists little scientific correlation or evidence of the impact of climate change on peace and security, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process is the most equitable architecture to address the issue, she stressed.
The representative of the Russian Federation also said there is no scientific basis to the relationship between climate and security, expressing concern over the counterproductive “securitizing” of climate issues. While acknowledging the social impacts of increasing natural hazards and the economic consequences of sea-level changes, he said development issues, including the environmental dimension, should be considered within relevant fora, such as the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, high-level political forum on sustainable development and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Also speaking today were the Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta, State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, and representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Gabon, France, United Kingdom, China, Ecuador, Singapore, Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea, Jordan, Egypt, Mexico, Philippines, New Zealand, Denmark (also for Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway), Viet Nam, Slovenia, Chile, Portugal, Lebanon, Austria, Guyana, Greece, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Botswana, Georgia, Latvia, Canada, Ireland, Kiribati, Samoa (for the Association of Small Island States), Marshall Islands, Kenya, Italy, Tonga (for the Pacific Islands Forum), Papua New Guinea, Antigua and Barbuda (for the Caribbean Community), Tuvalu, Guatemala, Ukraine, Bahrain, Nauru (for the Group of Friends on Climate and Security), Niger, Maldives, Argentina, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Haiti and Sierra Leone.
The representative of the European Union spoke in its capacity as observer as did the Permanent Observer of the Holy See.
The Council also heard from a representative of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).
Taking the floor a second time were the representatives of Japan and China.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m., suspended at 1:06 p.m., resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 7:07 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stressing that “rising seas are sinking futures”, said that sea-level rise is not only a threat in itself, but also a threat-multiplier. Rising seas threaten lives, and jeopardize access to water, food and health care, while saltwater intrusion can decimate jobs and entire economies in key industries like agriculture, fisheries and tourism. Citing the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest data, he added that global average sea levels have risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000 years. The global ocean has warmed faster over the past century than at any time in the past 11,000 years, he said, adding that, even if global heating is miraculously limited to 1.5°C, there will still be a sizeable sea-level rise. If temperatures rise by 2°C, that level rise could double, he said, pointing out that, under any scenario, countries like Bangladesh, China, India and the Netherlands are all at risk. Further, he added, mega-cities on every continent will face serious impacts including Cairo, Lagos, Maputo, Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Santiago.
Noting that nearly 900 million people — 10 per cent of the world’s population — live in coastal zones at low elevations, he pointed out that, while people in small island developing States in the Western Pacific are facing sea-level rise up to four times the global average, in the Caribbean, rising seas have contributed to the devastation of local livelihoods in tourism and agriculture. Flooding and coastal erosion in West Africa are damaging infrastructure and communities, undermining farming and often costing lives while in North Africa, saltwater intrusion is contaminating land and freshwater resources, destroying livelihoods, and Antarctica is losing an average of 150 billion tons of ice mass annually. Himalayan melts have worsened flooding in Pakistan, he said, warning that as these glaciers recede over the coming decades, the rivers will shrink. Many low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear forever, he said, adding: “We would witness a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale.” Noting that this will lead to ever-fiercer competition for freshwater, land and other resources, he said the international community must address the climate crisis which is the root cause of rising seas. The world is hurtling past the 1.5°C warming limit that a liveable future requires, and with present policies, is careening towards 2.8°C — “a death sentence for vulnerable countries”, he said.
Stressing the need to provide developing countries the resources to build resilience against climate disaster, he said this means delivering on the loss and damage fund, making good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries, doubling adaptation finance and leveraging massive private financing at a reasonable cost. Also pointing to the need to address how environmental disasters like rising sea levels undermine security, he noted that the Peacebuilding Fund is actively supporting grass-roots resilience efforts against the effects of climate change. It is vital to improve foresight and early warnings to prepare and protect vulnerable communities, he said, highlighting the Organization’s plan to ensure that early warning systems against natural disasters protect every person on Earth within five years.
Further, the international community must address the legal and human rights impact of rising seas and shrinking landmasses, he said, adding that this means not only international refugee law, but also innovative legal and practical solutions to forced human displacement. “People’s human rights do not disappear because their homes do,” he said, drawing attention to the solutions proposed in 2022 by the International Law Commission, including continuing statehood despite loss of territory, assigning portions of territory to an affected State or even establishing confederations of States. The Security Council has a critical role to play in building the political will required to address the devastating security challenges arising from rising seas, he underscored.
CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, stating that “we cannot deny that climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation”, underscored that the issue demands focus and coherence across the United Nations system. For the General Assembly, this means accelerating action on climate and water. For the Economic and Social Council, it means addressing social and economic aspects. And the Security Council has a role to play, too. Recalling the words of ancient Syrian writer Publilius Syrus — that “anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm” — he stressed that “our seas are not calm today”. Rather, they are rising, and at the current rate, sea levels will be 1 to 1.6 metres higher by 2100. This means that, in less than 80 years, 250 to 400 million people will likely need new homes in new locations. “You don’t need me to tell you that the displacement of hundreds of millions of people is a security risk,” he observed.
He went on to note that, as much of global agriculture is concentrated on coastal plains and low-lying islands, sea-level rise is also raising questions about humanity’s survival. In the Nile and Mekong Deltas — some of the richest agricultural regions in the world — 10 to 20 per cent of arable land will sink. These and other fertile river deltas are vital pieces in the complex puzzle of world nutrition to feed the growing global population, and losing these areas can have knock-on effects around the globe. He went on to note that climate-induced sea-level rise is also provoking new legal questions that are at the very core of national and State identity, including how sovereignty or United Nations membership will continue if nations sink beneath the sea and who will care for their displaced populations.
“We know the risks, and we see the uncertainties and instabilities that we are going to face,” he emphasized, adding that “we can’t doubt that these will open the door for conflict and dispute”. He underscored that, where that door is open, the Council has a responsibility to act. It is critical to invest in prevention today, rather than address the implications of food scarcity or migration tomorrow. Stressing that climate analysis should be integrated into planning for conflict prevention and protection efforts, he also pointed out that climate action can be a key tool for peacebuilding.
Science and data offer impartial evidence to direct these decisions, he stated, adding that the Paris Agreement on climate change — and its targets for mitigation, adaptation and finance — offer the primary defence. For its part, the General Assembly recently heard briefings from eminent scientists on the links between climate, conflict and cooperation, along with urgent calls from world leaders to take a whole-of-Government, whole-of-society approach to these issues. Noting that the international community has the data and the frameworks, he stressed that what is needed now — as ever — is the political will to act. Recalling that Hurricane Sandy forced United Nations Headquarters to close for three days in 2012 — and the sharp criticism faced by the Organization in the aftermath over its silence and lack of preparation — he asked those present if the world is prepared. Imploring the Council to assume its role, he quoted Lao Tzu, who observed that: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”.
BOGDAN AURESCU, Co-Chair of the Study Group of the International Law Commission on sea-level rise in relation to international law, and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, stressed that sea-level rise, which is a direct negative effect of climate change, creates global problems — therefore requiring global solutions. The issue poses a real risk to over two thirds of Member States. “The science is clear on this,” he affirmed — as shown by the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports regarding the alarming projections of sea-level rise, even if Paris Agreement targets are met.
The negative national and international security implications and consequences linked to sea-level rise include: affecting the coasts, which are “pushed” landward, and therefore affecting the baselines, and the maritime zones that are measured from the baselines (territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone) — thus threatening the coastal States’ access to the resources. This loss of resources on which the littoral populations depend for their sustenance is likely to prompt increased competition over natural resources, forced migration and displacement of these populations. Most importantly, he noted it can prompt the loss of State territory. Sea-level rise is an existential threat for low-lying coastal States and especially for small island developing countries, which may consider their statehood and sovereignty in danger, as their land surface may be totally covered by the sea or become fully uninhabitable.
As States’ coasts are the first to be affected, he cited two options of action. First, physically protecting the coast through fortifications and consolidation — but this is highly costly and small island developing States and many low-lying coastal States simply cannot afford such costs. The international community must find innovative instruments to support such efforts. Citing his proposal in September 2022 for an International Voluntary Fund, he renewed that proposal today. The second option is the use of international law, and the International Law Commission included the topic “Sea-level rise in relation to international law” on its agenda. It is obvious, he noted, that for all States affected by sea-level rise the maritime zones established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are central to their economies, food security and to their livelihoods.
He pointed to a large number of statements presented in the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee (Legal), as well as by collective regional and cross-regional declarations, such as the August 2021 “Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise” of the 18 Pacific Islands Forum members; and the September 2021 Declaration of the 39 Heads of State and Government of the Alliance of Small Island States. This possible solution refers to the interpretation of the law of the sea that there is no obligation under this treaty to keep baselines and outer limits of maritime zones under review, nor to update charts or lists of geographical coordinates once deposited with the Secretary-General — and that such maritime zones, and the rights and entitlements that flow from them, shall continue to apply without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes prompted by sea-level rise. In other words, “preserving (or fixing, or ‘freezing’) the baselines and outer limits of maritime zones is crucial to legal stability and security,” he said.
He further noted that legal stability and security also means that sea-level rise cannot be invoked, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as a fundamental change of circumstances for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty which established a maritime boundary — since maritime boundaries enjoy the same regime of stability as any other boundaries. Calling on the international community to address the increasing humanitarian consequences, he stressed the duty to prevent situations in which vulnerable countries must choose between responding to climate change and their own development. “Global solidarity is key here,” he said. To avoid possible situations of “de facto” statelessness, he cited measures including preserving the fundamental rights and the conservation of the identity of persons compelled to settle on the territory of third States as a result of such phenomena; safeguarding the rights of the affected States with respect to their cultural heritage; preserving the right to self-determination of the affected populations; and enabling the granting of financial and technical support to affected States when exercising their right to preserve their own existence.
Solutions are needed to protect human rights, with vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the elderly and indigenous populations, likely to suffer the most. Also, a well-defined territory has long been considered one of the requirements for statehood, and the submerging of land poses obvious threats for the territorial integrity of States, and even for their existence — a novel situation for international law. Affirming that international law options are not limited to the Commission’s work, he spotlighted the initiative of Vanuatu — supported by a group of States, including Romania — to conduct consultations leading to a request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States with respect to climate change.
CORAL PASISI, Director of Climate Change of the Pacific Community and President of Tofia Niue, noted that she spoke from a small island developing States lens, “in particular the Pacific islands from whence I was born, have worked and lived my whole life to date, and intend to do so for its remainder”. Recalling figures that estimate that, by 2050, “within the lifetime of our children and grandchildren”, sea-level rise will have exceeded at least 1 metre for most small island developing States, and that the current 1-in-100-year extreme sea-level event will be experienced every single year, she stated that sea-level rise and climate change impacts present both a direct security threat, as well as a threat multiplier to individuals, communities, provinces, nations and certainly to the region to which she belongs: the Blue Pacific Continent. “A threat to one’s security is best defined by the lens of those being impacted, not those who continue to be most responsible for its cause,” she added.
She noted that the Blue Pacific Continent is a quilt of geopolitical interests, forged through the World Wars, patchworked via the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and coloured by globalization, adding: “It is now threatened to be torn by the impacts of sea level rise and climate change.” Such a threat will only be exacerbated by the uncertainty of jurisdiction, as law remains ambiguous about the impacts of sea-level rise on the basepoints by which Exclusive Economic Zones are measured and fixed. Against this backdrop, she outlined declarations put forth by Pacific leaders, including, in 2018, the Boe Declaration on Regional Security which elevates climate change as the single, greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific, and the 2021 Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise, which is the region’s “good-faith interpretation” of the Law of the Sea Convention, given that the relationship between climate-change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones was not foreseen or considered by its drafters.
In addition, last year’s 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent, endorsed by Pacific Island Forum leaders, reinforced working together as a collective for advancing Pacific regionalism based on the Blue Pacific Narrative — a lens which fully appreciates the threat of climate change to the region’s security, she said. Further, she looked forward to next month’s expected General Assembly resolution requesting an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States in respect of climate change, championed by Vanuatu and supported by all Pacific nations.
She went on to describe the realities of insecurity already under way in the most vulnerable communities, as affirmed by the Pacific Security Outlook Report 2022-2023, and an ongoing climate security project funded by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund in the Pacific, assessing the security threat of the region’s lowest-lying atoll nations as the front liners to the impacts of sea-level rise and climate change. The concerns voiced so far, she continued, are food and water security, coastal erosion and land security, and the disproportionate impact on women, girls and children. A fit-for-purpose Pacific Regional Security Assessment Guide is in the final process of being developed as part of this project and will provide a platform to collaborate on in future. Also pointing to “unique non-economic impacts” which are “most concerning”, she said small island developing States remain resolute, and are “pushing for greater accountability of our generation to the next whether we sit on a beach or in a glass tower”.
Turning to the role of the Council against such threats, she called on the organ to acknowledge and advocate to stop greenhouse-gas emissions, and to support the efforts of regions and countries most at risk to secure their jurisdictional space on the planet and the certainty of their existence as States into the future. Further, she called on the Council to develop and implement ambitious policy on greening its practices, as well as those of its stakeholders in the field; go to places to where such impacts are occurring to fully appreciate first-hand the situation; and give voice to the most vulnerable — women, girls and children — who are disproportionately impacted.
IAN BORG, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta and Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, pointed out that the Council would be better placed to identify, address and drive responses to peace and security if it taps into scientific knowledge and research on the impacts of new and emerging threats such as climate change. Sea-level rise unleashes both sudden and gradual threats to the existence, identity and security of people and nations since submerged coastlines will threaten critical infrastructure, precipitate resource disputes and further marginalize the most vulnerable. It has already resulted in the partial or total inundation of coastal areas; led to losses in land, housing and property; and disrupted basic services, he noted, stressing that the dire humanitarian consequences of rising sea levels are no longer a discourse in rhetoric. Women and girls notably face the brunt of these climate-induced manifestations with devastating impacts on family survival that, in turn, limit the resilience of current and future generations. Warning that the political and security consequences of sea-level rise may lead to a completely different world if left unaddressed by the Council, he reiterated his country’s commitment to ensure that the most affected are heard. He also underscored the protection of women environmental defenders as an integral part of the global agenda for peacebuilding and sustaining peace.
VERÓNICA NATANIEL MACAMO DLHOVO, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique, pledging her country’s fullest support, noted that it is a low-lying coastal State that is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Since 2019, Mozambique has been experiencing extreme weather events on a scale never seen before, she reported, adding that, in the last 12 months alone, Mozambique has endured five tropical storms and cyclones. Cyclone Gombe of 2022 impacted almost one million people, she said, adding that in the City and Province of Maputo, 40,000 people were affected. “We are talking about people who have lost almost everything they have gathered during their lives,” she said, adding that many cities in her country suffer severe erosion, a challenge shared with other large coastal cities in Africa, from Lagos to Casablanca. “If no urgent action is taken to protect these cities, they may disappear in the near future,” she cautioned.
While small island developing States are some of the most peaceful nations in the world, she said, population displacement, loss of territory and possible threats to loss of national identity may deeply affect their own peace. The possible significant territorial loss resulting from sea-level rise leads to a range of concerns relating to statehood, national identity, refugee status, State responsibility, access to resources and maritime jurisdiction. Most African States have peacefully settled disputed maritime boundary claims, she said, but rising sea levels are likely to unravel these settled maritime boundaries. Calling on the international community to develop clear rules to safeguard the stability of these boundaries, she said that incentives are needed to promote active participation of coastal communities in the conservation measures of marine ecosystems. Further, it is essential to formulate a unanimous solution to displacement and the loss of territory that is to come, she said, adding that the international community must reflect on how to reaffirm the self-determination principle and the continuation of statehood after loss of territory.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that, while rising seas overtaking homes, offices, cities and nations “should be the stuff of apocalypse novels and movies”, sea-level rise today is a real, global threat. Noting that Gulf Coast waters are projected to rise by two feet by 2050 in her home state of Louisiana, she said that local fishermen currently report that rising waters have damaged infrastructure and livelihoods and forced some who have lived and worked in the area for generations to move to higher ground. Against that backdrop, she underscored that sea-level rise is a real, direct result of the climate crisis and a matter of international peace and security. Therefore, the Council must act, as projections indicate that more than 680 million people living in low-lying coastal areas will lose their homes, livelihoods and communities; billions more will be displaced as climate refugees; and most of the world’s population will experience severe weather due to rising tides. Further, the Council should be concerned by how sea-level rise will make it harder for peacekeeping missions to fulfil their mandates. Detailing her country’s response, she said that the United States is working with partners to strengthen early warning systems through contributing more than $40 million to close the early warning gap, including new resources for small Pacific island States. She added that the United States will not challenge maritime zones — even if they are not subsequently updated to reflect sea-level rise — consistent with the approach taken by the Pacific Islands Forum, and encouraged others to do the same.
THOMAS GUERBER, State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, affirmed that rising seas threaten the infrastructure and even the existence of some island and coastal States, which could find themselves submerged. In addition, agricultural production, food security, access to water and the habitat are threatened by soil erosion and water salinization. Some areas are becoming uninhabitable, which could force millions of people to flee within or outside their country — which can lead to tensions over access to basic services. He noted that the Council must be able to anticipate the impacts of climate change on international peace and security through conflict early warning systems based on sound science, and integrate the findings into its activities, including peacekeeping and special political missions. Further, addressing sea-level rise means “international law must serve as our compass”, he stated — with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or the principle of damage-prevention serving as crucial components. However, despite the established framework of international law, he affirmed that these climate challenges also pose new and complex questions — for example, regarding statehood, human rights or the protection of people against the specific effects of these threats. He therefore welcomed the ongoing work of the International Law Commission. Switzerland has taken on a proactive role in launching the Nansen Initiative with Norway, as well as the Geneva-based “Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction”, to improve the protection of people displaced across borders.
MAJID AL SUWAIDI (United Arab Emirates), Director-General of the twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated that “nowhere is the urgency and complexity of the climate crisis more evident than in our seas and oceans”, as borne out by the testimonies of people living on the front lines of climate change, whose security, livelihoods and identities are already under threat. Long before the temperature rises by 1.5°C, warming, rising and acidifying waters pose an existential threat, particularly to low-lying countries and coastal communities, with many territories poised to become uninhabitable even before becoming permanently inundated, he said, calling for “unity, solidarity and action” in the face of this crisis. Recalling that countries are presently off track from the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, he emphasized the urgent need for a coordinated response across the multilateral system, and for the current trajectory to be reversed through inclusive, effective and responsive climate action.
He went on to outline the elements of a shared response to common perils, including the need for regular Secretary-General reporting of scientific data analysis on risks and impacts of climate change on international peace and security to enable the Council to take a context-based and evidence-based approach to such threats. He also underscored the need to catalyse greater and higher-quality climate finance for vulnerable countries to address “glaring underinvestment in food and water systems and infrastructure resilience” and called for reforming international financial institutions and multilateral development banks, so they can “run towards instead of away from destabilizing climate threats”. Early action work by humanitarian actors, which could ensure an inclusive response from the start, is needed, as is addressing the “unprecedented” legal and policy challenges posed by sea-level rise, and ensuring the multilateral system offers adequate solutions. He commended the continuing work of the International Law Commission to this end, particularly concerning the Law of the Sea Convention, sovereignty and statehood.
FERIX HOXHA (Albania), reminding all that climate change risks altering everything on Earth to the point of no return, called for climate change to be a core Council topic. As “denying it means sleepwalking into a disaster written in front of our eyes in capital letters”, preventing the Council from doing its part only adds to the attitudes that steal from children’s futures and punishes them to live with the consequences of inaction, he underscored. In deploring the Council’s failure to put the existential threat of climate change where it belongs, he stressed the need to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on security. The Council must properly assess and respond to these risks and the Organization as a whole must increase cross-agency cooperation, coordination, knowledge and the sharing of best practices, he said before voicing support for the appointment of a Special Representative on climate and security. Early warning systems must also be prioritized. However, such ambitious climate plans will remain a wishful thought — “right but toothless” — without access to appropriate financing. Climate-related efforts must also be gender responsive, promote women and girls as agents of change and directly address the issues they face, he added.
MICHAEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) noting the domino effect of peace, security and development, called for a global strategic response to rising sea levels at the national and multilateral levels. The threat to peace and security is real, he said, adding that it is particularly existential and imminent for small island developing States. The Council must come up with a preventive response that includes risk-assessment planning, as well as funding and capacity-building. Scientific data is very clear about the threat posed to territorial integrity, he said, adding that sea-level rise affects the fundamental characteristic that define a State: a defined territory and a population. Welcoming the International Law Commission’s work, he said that, at the current rate, hundreds of millions of people in Africa will be impacted between now and 2030, while some of the continent’s low-lying cities will become uninhabitable in the medium term. In addition to the effect of rising sea levels on food security and livelihoods, he noted the great probability of a mass migration which could exacerbate tensions. Stressing the importance of tackling climate change, he said climate policy must underpin all development initiatives and endorses support for the appeal to nominate a Special Representative on climate and security.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) called on all to do their part in achieving the Paris Agreement. In noting that the absorption of excess heat by oceans results in increased water temperatures and damaged marine ecosystems, he pointed out that small island developing States are the most exposed. Beyond rising sea levels, all of the cumulative effects caused by climate change are potential sources of instability and conflict namely diminishing resources, submerged land, forced migration and food insecurity, he emphasized, urging the international community to respond to the state of emergency facing the oceans. As this backdrop demands a comprehensive and preventive approach, the Secretary-General’s Our Common Approach provides the road map to build peace, create the conditions for inclusive sustainable development and combat the effects of climate change. He then spotlighted his country’s contributions to the international community’s efforts to mitigate the security consequences of rising sea levels and encouraged the United Nations system to act in a more coordinated manner to reduce climate risks. Stressing the need for all to act urgently, he said that France is co-hosting the next United Nations Oceans Conference with Costa Rica in 2025.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) underscored that the threat posed by sea-level rise is as imminent and critical as that posed by invasion by a foreign nation. At the core of both crises is human life and dignity, and both are serious security issues. While the Council should get involved when such issues arise, the organ alone cannot offer a comprehensive solution; however, it can fulfil its responsibility to maintain international peace and security by calling together other United Nations bodies. Underlining the need for preventive diplomacy, he called for more robust conversation between the Council and other entities, such as the Peacebuilding Commission. For its part, he said that Japan is working to support small island developing States in areas such as disaster risk training under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. He went on to support the preservation of existing baselines and maritime zones, as established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, regardless of regressing coastline due to climate change. This interpretation is legitimate, he stressed, and will ensure legal stability and predictability for small island developing States. He added that, as an island country, Japan understands the seriousness of this issue and will work proactively in the United Nations to address it, along with the link between climate change and security more generally.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) underscored that it does not fall within the mandate of the Security Council to discuss climate change. If the goal of this discussion is to focus on how to prevent political and security concerns related to sea-level rise and build resilience, then the securitization of this debate may prove itself undesirable and counterproductive. Noting that there is no evidence proving that climate change directly causes armed conflicts, he emphasized that the Council does not have the tools to fight climate change. Therefore, a security-centred discussion cannot offer solutions to support countries affected by sea-level rise, most particularly small island developing States. Instead, climate change and sea-level rise implications need to be dealt with through international law and cooperation for development. Highlighting the importance of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Law Commission, he stressed the urgent need for all developed countries to fulfil their long-overdue climate finance commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, including the mobilization of $100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries by 2020.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) warned that sea-level rise poses a clear risk to livelihoods, as well as to the security of millions who live in low-lying coastal areas, particularly small island developing States. The homes, culture and identity of millions are being destroyed or lost. Water sources for millions are being salinized. Food systems for millions are being wiped away. “Delaying action means being too late to make the needed difference,” he declared, describing the implications of sea-level rise for international peace and security as “unimaginable”. Drawing attention to Africa, he said the World Bank estimates that erosion, flooding and pollution cause $3.8 billion in damages annually in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo alone. In Ghana, rising sea levels have threatened historic towns like Keta, Ada and Shama and rising temperatures have triggered the migration of fish stocks, while salinization has contaminated farmlands and freshwater reserves affecting the livelihoods of fisherfolk and farmers. Frequent inundation has led to forced migration, displacement, the destruction of property and human lives. Against this background, he emphasized the need for the implementation of the commitments for climate action to urgently reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Moreover, climate action is impossible without adequate finance, he said, pointing to the long-delayed delivery of the $100 billion promised to developing countries. He also called on States to strengthen existing mechanisms to peacefully prevent and resolve conflicts in the era of climate change.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) pointed out that continued sea-level rise will increase the likelihood and magnitude of coastal flooding and in turn lead to an increase in recognized drivers of insecurity, such as humanitarian disasters, population displacement and natural resource competition. While these impacts might not yet be apparent at scale, the Council should do more to urgently limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, monitor and analyse risks, anticipate and plan for them and act now to prevent the worst security consequences of the future. On data- and evidence-gathering to better understand climate security risks at the local and regional level, she stressed the need to strengthen the Organization’s capacity to share, analyse and integrate this information into its decision-making. For its part, the Council has a clear role in encouraging the United Nations system to consider security implications and in driving a more coherent response. There must be cohesive strategies to mitigate and address climate-related risks to peace and security in a coordinated manner, she stressed. Turning to the need to build coastal States’ resilience, she spotlighted her Government’s efforts and financial support in that regard.
ZHANG JUN (China) noted his country has a long coastline and therefore pays great attention to the risks of sea-level rise, noting it raises issues regarding the Law of the Sea, statehood and human protection, which merit in-depth study. Sea-level rise is caused by a multitude of factors, including global warming and polar glacier melting, and the international community must step up and focus on climate change as the root cause — seizing the opportunity to prevent it from driving irreversible catastrophes for humanity, and relentlessly working to achieve the temperature gap in the Paris Agreement. However, he noted that, in the past year, there has been a backtrack in the energy policy of some developed countries, with an increase in their consumption of fossil fuels and carbon emissions. Those States should set an example, he said, as they are obliged to provide climate change assistance — yet the annual funding of $100 billion has yet to be truly delivered, making their so-called commitment nothing more than an empty promise. Worse, some invest hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies in domestic manufacturing through the so-called inflation-reduction act, which is hypocritical self-serving green protectionism, violating World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and discriminating against relevant industries on other countries. Pointing to the discharge of 400,000 tons of nuclear contaminated water from the Fukushima power plant, he urged Japan to dispose of it in a science-based, open and transparent manner. China has signed 45 climate change cooperation instruments with 38 developing countries, among other international initiatives, he noted.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) stated that sea-level rise is one of the most disturbing effects of climate change, disproportionately impacting developing countries and small island developing States. Ecuador also suffers from this issue, as it has highly populous coastal regions and territories with fragile ecosystems, such as the Galapagos Islands. Given the potential humanitarian crisis sparked by sea-level rise, through displacement and climate refugees caused by land loss, he underscored the importance of the International Law Commission’s assessments, in particular, to better understand the legal implications of the issue and avoid conflicts. Ecuador recognizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as the primary intergovernmental forum to negotiate the global response to climate change, including compliance with commitments. The Peacebuilding Commission, as an advisory body to the Council, has a supporting role to play in managing the impacts of sea-level rise, as do useful tools such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Discussions at the Council on climate-change-related phenomena, including sea-level rise, can help the United Nations contribute to adopting actions aimed at mitigating the problem and its impact.
DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation), expressing his concern over the counterproductive “securitizing” of climate issues, pointed out that the relationship between climate and security has no scientific basis. While the social impacts of increasing natural hazards, economic consequences of sea-level changes and the inability of countries to operationalize early warning systems are worrying, linking the underlying causes of such challenges only to climate is both deceptive and harmful in that it inhibits solutions and prevents discussions with donors. The entire gamut of sustainable development issues must be considered, he emphasized before describing the discussions on sea-level rise as premature, especially in light of the Council’s non-core platform. Development issues, including the environmental dimension, should be considered within relevant fora, such as the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, high-level political forum on sustainable development and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he reminded. On Japan’s plans to discharge radionuclide-contaminated water into the ocean, he voiced his support to China and called on Tokyo to demonstrate transparency, inform others of its actions, allow for monitoring and to minimize negative environmental impacts. Returning to the issue of climate change, he stressed that island States are justified in bringing their challenges to the attention of the international community. However, these discussions must occur within the specialized platforms of the development system in order to find cures and unearth underlying causes, he reiterated.
MUHAMMAD FAISHAL IBRAHIM, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Minister of State for National Development of Singapore, emphasized the urgent need for measures to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of sea-level rise while addressing and alleviating its potential impacts on peace and security. As the Council must assume its responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security, its work can complement those of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Every country must do its part to support multilateral efforts in that regard including by implementing nationally determined contributions and long-term low-emissions development strategies under the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as by supporting relevant Assembly initiatives. Capacity-building for small island developing States and least developed countries on climate change mitigation and adaptation is also critical. All efforts to address sea-level rise and its impacts must be in accordance with international law, he continued, warning that any solutions which are not will only serve to undermine the rule of law. On the Commission’s work, he stressed that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea must be the framework to consider all law of the sea-related issues.
MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) stressed that sea-level rise is the most pressing security issue, especially for peoples living in low-lying atoll States. Women and girls will undoubtedly shoulder a disproportionate burden and yet they will remain crucial agents of change, she underscored, calling for a gender-sensitive lens in all climate and security responses. Member States, she continued, are far off track to avert the worst consequences of climate change. With “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), only drastic reductions in global emissions will spare populations the most serious consequences. For its part, the international community must ensure that affected States — such as atoll nations whose groundwater is at risk of saltwater intrusion and territory at risk of inundation and volcanic island nations whose populations predominantly live close to sea level — have the legal certainty to make decisions on behalf of their populations. On the question of statehood, she pointed out that the international community should recommit itself to people’s right to self-determination. Situations of sea-level rise should not imply challenges to State persistence as only its people should be able to determine this right’s expression, including through statehood.
JOONKOOK HWANG (Republic of Korea), aligning himself with the Group of Friends of Climate and Security, highlighted the undeniable nexus between climate change and peace and security. Climate change does not bear the hallmark of a traditional threat that is mostly military and imminent. It will, however, pose a global-scale threat to peace and security in the long-term if not addressed in time. Pointing to this ominous linkage in many parts of the world — such as Africa — he stressed that the Council should not remain aloof on this matter as the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security. Understanding the security implications of climate change requires putting together scientific data with local perspectives and other socioeconomic factors, he noted, encouraging the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security to strengthen its role in developing the analysis gathered by these various sources.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) highlighted the international peace and security implications of potential conflicts arising from population displacement and maritime disputes related to sea-level rise. Calling for international cooperation in prevention and risk management, he noted that the legal aspects relating to this phenomenon are complex. Acknowledging that there are no clear‑cut solutions, he commended the work of the International Law Commission. Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention should also consider negotiating a protocol or another instrument to deal with maritime aspects of sea-level rise, including the potential change of baselines and the issue of stability of borders, he proposed. Stressing that the international community must assist small island developing States in overcoming challenges to their sovereignty and dealing with population displacement, he said that such burden-sharing is a moral and legal duty. Noting that several developed countries are already planning to build sea barriers to protect their territories, he added that the same facilities should be provided to small island and other developing States.
OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDEL KHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt) said that the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the relevant international conventions — particularly the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement — remain the platforms with the original mandate to address the climate crisis in all its manifestations, including sea-level rise. Citing the latest needs report by the Framework Convention’s Standing Committee on Finance, he pointed out that developing countries need $5.6 trillion to implement nationally determined contributions up to 2030. Further, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that annual climate adaptation costs in developing countries could reach $300 billion in 2030. The adverse impact of climate change will cost Egypt more than 6 per cent of its GDP annually, and sea-level rise will affect 25 per cent of its population and 90 per cent of its agricultural land. He stressed that sea-level rise will further add to the challenges Egypt faces as the most heavily populated water-scarce country in the world. Against that backdrop, he underscored the urgent necessity of climate financing, including financial commitments made in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He added that the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference succeeded in achieving a historic decision regarding funding arrangements for loss and damage.
ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) cited WMO, reporting that the rate of sea-level rise has doubled since 1993, with the past two and a half years accounting for 10 per cent of that rise. The phenomenon poses a particular threat to small island developing States, but also to millions of people living in coastal communities around the world, including middle-income countries. Calling for compliance with the agreements reached in Sharm el-Sheikh, including the new fund for loss and damage for countries vulnerable to climate change, he emphasized the importance of strengthening disaster risk reduction measures. As recognized in the second thematic document of the International Law Commission study group, it is important to analyse the legal effects of sea-level rise on the continuity of so-called “statehood” — and to work on clarification of the legal regime for the protection of people. He called on the Council to take into account the impact the phenomenon may have on its sphere of action, so that it can fulfil its responsibility to ensure international peace and security — not “securitizing” the environmental agenda, but ensuring that it is not remiss when considering the many factors that may generate present or future conflicts.
ARIEL RODELAS PEÑARANDA (Philippines) said that, as an archipelagic State with more than half of its cities and communities living along its coast, his country is among those most vulnerable to sea-level rise due to anthropogenic climate change. Like other island nations, the Philippines is experiencing significant amounts of sea-level rise, with observable levels of 60 centimetres, three times the global average. He went on to state that the relationship between climate change and conflict is not linear but nuanced and context-specific, emphasizing that the appropriate forum for discussions about climate change and related action is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He called for people-centred discussions on the issue, whose impacts threaten the lives and livelihoods of Filipinos, especially those living in coastal areas. Underscoring the principle of uti possidetis juris as it applies to issues concerning boundaries, he went on to welcome the work of the International Law Commission on three main areas relating to sea-level rise: the law of the sea, statehood and the protection of people directly affected by it.
ARRMANATHA CHRISTIAWAN NASIR (Indonesia) pointed out that the inability of States to adapt to the impacts of climate change and their exacerbated vulnerabilities may allow potential security threats to become real ones. Firm responses are key to addressing challenges of livelihood loss, irregular migration, food insecurity, environmental degradation and territory loss, he said. In calling for the avoidance of sea-level rise-related conflicts, he stressed that maritime boundary agreements should not be affected and that existing agreements should be maintained. He then underscored the need for affected countries to have adaptive capacities and strong national resilience capacities. Since the responsibility to respond to climate-related security impacts lies with these countries, any measures to assist them must be based on their needs and priorities. For its part, the United Nations system must enhance cooperation and strengthen information exchanges to ensure effective response strategies. The Council, he continued, must consolidate its effort to better respond to the security impacts of climate change and not to climate change itself. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must remain the leading forum for addressing climate change, all of the Council measures must be complementary in that regard.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), aligning herself with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, warned that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and that those impacts will continue to worsen in the future. In New Zealand, a state of national emergency was declared on Monday in response to Cyclone Gabrielle, she said, stressing the severity of the widespread damage caused by this unprecedented weather event. Climate change is a threat multiplier, adding complexity to existing security threats and remaining the single greatest existential threat facing the Blue Pacific. Some Pacific island countries experience up to four times greater sea-level rise than the global average. It is therefore critical that the international community cooperates to develop responses to these issues, she asserted, noting that the impacts of rising sea levels also raise important legal questions relevant to international peace and security. In this context, she voiced support for the 2021 Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise.
MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), speaking also for Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland, asked: “If your land territory becomes inundated, where do you go as a people and how do you preserve your culture and your heritage?” Pointing to the impact of sea-level rise on sovereignty and maritime zones, he noted that these questions have been raised by small island developing countries for decades. Stressing the Council's critical role in promoting a greater understanding of the issues at stake and in preparing and protecting people as climate change forces them to adapt and eventually relocate, he said that the plight of communities in low-lying coastal areas today is the plight of the global community tomorrow. Stressing that climate change is a significant risk multiplier, especially when combined with other factors, such as socioeconomic inequality and weak resource governance, he urged the international community to redouble efforts to reduce the impacts of sea-level rise.
The United Nations, he said, must continue to consider and address how States can mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, including through relevant resolutions. The Council should explicitly request the Organization to continue to build its capacity and expertise in addressing climate-related security risk and strengthen Missions’ engagement with local, regional and other actors. While some countries such as Fiji have already made progress on national legislation on how to respond to the adverse effects of climate change, he said, sharing lessons learned by those most affected by sea-level rise could identify entry points for United Nations engagement. The Law of the Sea Convention is the appropriate framework for addressing these emerging challenges, but the security implications are yet to be fully discovered, he pointed out. The international community must jointly pursue a deeper understanding of this topic, he said, calling for regular reports to the Council on this matter.
DANG HOANG GIANG (Viet Nam), noting that his country is one of the coastal States hardest hit by climate change, stressed that the fight against climate change and sea-level rise must be comprehensive, place people at the heart of the solution and go hand-in-hand with addressing root causes. To that end, dispute settlement mechanisms should be strengthened and international commitments must be fully implemented with special attention and support for vulnerable States. The role and coordination of relevant United Nations organs should be further strengthened, he continued, voicing his support for the annual Human Rights Council resolution on climate change and the Assembly resolution requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on States’ obligations. For its part, the Council must heed the security implications of sea-level rise; address the impacts of this global threat; convene more briefings by scientists and experts; and capitalize on international and regional experiences. To facilitate decision-making processes on global climate action, it should encourage the establishment of a comprehensive United Nations database on the multidimensional impacts of sea-level rise. He also suggested the Council consider an early warning system on sea-level rise in conflict regions.
BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia), aligning himself with the statements to be delivered by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, said that sea-level rise is not only an environmental concern but also a major global security threat. The phenomenon threatens territorial integrity, jeopardizes livelihoods, exacerbates humanitarian crises, increases social tension and threatens the very existence of low-lying small island States. Pointing out that Slovenia — while one of the least affected globally — will still experience coastal flooding, he underlined the need for cooperative efforts to mitigate the impact of sea-level rise and to support communities by investing in adaptation measures. He also stressed that the United Nations — including the Council — must focus on the interaction between climate change and global security. By prioritizing this issue and discussing it at the highest political level, the international community can prevent the world from becoming more unjust and unequal. He added that Slovenia is committed to protecting the maritime ecosystem, as doing so is important for security in the Mediterranean region.
PAULA NARVÁEZ OJEDA (Chile), noting that climate change is a threat multiplier that increases the risk of violence and intensifies conflict factors such as food insecurity, economic crises and migration, said her country meets seven of the nine vulnerability criteria in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Recognizing the security challenges at the national, regional and international levels, she urged the international community to adopt concrete actions to cooperate with the communities that will be most affected and avoid a disaster that could affect vast regions of the world, especially the Pacific Ocean basin. She called on the Council to bear crucial principles in mind: equity, shared but differentiated responsibilities, the polluter pays, and that of territorial integrity and of legal stability in relation to the maintenance of the baselines and the outer limits of maritime zones. The Council should also respond to the triple nexus of gender inequality, State fragility and climate vulnerability, with resolutions recognizing the intersection of these problems and their differentiated impact on international peace and security. She noted Chile and Colombia have requested an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the impact of the climate emergency.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco), observing that the international community is only just starting to grapple with the implications of sea-level rise on peace, security and stability, pointed out that international law currently only has limited guidelines on how to engage with the progressive disappearance of the continental mass of countries that lie below sea level. Morocco therefore welcomes the work programme of the International Law Commission and the study group set up to look into such questions. Noting that coastal zones host thriving populations, industries, and huge tourist resorts, he pointed out that erosion and flooding are devastating vast coastal areas, including on African coasts. As part of Morocco’s solidarity-based policy, the country has stepped up efforts to strengthen the climate resilience of African island States, with three committees set up to this end since convening a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh in 2016. He went on to urge the Council to consider climate change impacts on security before conflicts break out or worsen. Turning to the issue of migration, he pointed out that by 2050, impacts such as drought or desertification are expected to compel as many as 216 million people to migrate and called on States to lend support to the Marrakech Compact on Migration.
ANA PAULA ZACARIAS (Portugal), associating herself with the statements to be delivered by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, emphasized the need to start at the root cause, do more and act faster in the fight against climate change. The international community must focus on preparedness, build resilience and adapt to climate-related impacts and consequences. In this regard, she welcomed the Early Warnings for All initiative; spotlighted her Government’s support for least developed and small island developing States; underscored the importance of addressing legal questions concerning sea-level rise; and stressed that solutions must be consistent with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. She also voiced her Government’s full support to Vanuatu’s initiative to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on States’ obligations with respect to climate change. As the best-placed platform to promote cooperation and coordination, the United Nations system must work coherently to better prevent, prepare for and respond to sea-level rise. For its part, the Council must continue to work towards a comprehensive approach to address climate changes’ security impacts and risks, she said.
JEANNE MRAD (Lebanon), pointing to the interlinkages between climate change and conflict, said a regular report from the Secretary-General on the impact of climate change on security is important. Highlighting national and regional variations, she added that the Peacebuilding Commission as an advisory body could examine the repercussions of climate change on peace and security. This would help to develop conflict prevention strategies and ensure peacebuilding strategies take climate change into consideration. Strengthening prevention must be accompanied by predictable and sustainable financing, in particular for those States most affected by sea-level rise, she said. Noting that the varying impact of sea-level rise raises several legal questions pertaining to the law of the sea and the survival of States as well as the protection of those affected, she said her country is following with interest the work of the International Law Commission on this topic. The Commission’s work will clarify a number of areas of international law and will potentially provide legal and practical solutions, she said.
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), aligning himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, encouraged the Council to address issues concerning climate and security as a key priority. Sea-level rise not only affects States but also people, whether they live in coastal areas or in small island nations, he underscored. Since rising sea levels destroy people’s livelihoods, lead to displacement and conflicts over fresh water and fertile land and threaten their very existence, the international community must not ignore their fate and must demonstrate its solidarity. Turning to the related legal issues of sovereignty, statehood, maritime boundaries, entitlements and the protection of affected peoples, he emphasized that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — which largely reflects customary international law — must be globally and uniformly applied. For its part, the Commission must look at creative solutions and make use of all technological possibilities, he insisted.
CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BIRKETT (Guyana), aligning herself with the statements to be delivered by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Alliance of Small Island States, spotlighted the immediate impact of sea-level rise on food and water security. Pointing out that more than half of her country’s population lives at least six feet below sea level, she said that for these coastal communities sea-level rise results in soil erosion and saltwater intrusion into areas critical for food production. Crucial to building resilience is ensuring that vulnerable communities have the knowledge and capacity necessary to withstand such threats. Turning to the phenomenon’s legal implications, she noted that the Law of the Sea Convention presently does not oblige States to keep baselines under review once they are deposited. Underscoring that sea-level rise has territorial consequences with significant security implications, she pointed out that, in situations where boundaries are undefined, there is a greater possibility for tension and conflict. Against that backdrop, she stressed the need for bolder climate action, adequate support for vulnerable countries and robust international cooperation that aligns with the priorities of affected States.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India) noted small island developing States are at the forefront of climate and sea-level rise, the worst sufferers of a global problem they did not contribute to. Reducing their vulnerability and enhancing their resilience should be a collective responsibility of the international community, she said, calling for enhanced action to fulfil commitments on climate finance and technology transfer. Noting India has a coastline of 7,500 kilometres and several groups of islands located far from the mainland, she recognized the adverse impact of sea-level rise — but stressed that the Council is not the place to address climate change or that issue. There exists little scientific correlation or evidence of the impact of climate change on peace and security, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process is the most equitable architecture to address the issue. She welcomed the Loss and Damage Financial Facility, calling for its operationalization. Citing the history of unkept promises on financial commitments, she called it ironical that developing countries must bear the burden of everything: climate resilience, industrialization without carbonizing, and raising millions out of poverty, while also managing disruptions in global supply chains. Oversimplification of causes of conflict will not help solve them nor justify extreme policy measures, as climate change is more about development and less about peace and security.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) said that, as a small coastal country but a large ocean State, her country calls for an adherence to all obligations pursuant to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including halving greenhouse gas emissions and meeting climate financing commitments, including the operationalization of a loss and damage fund. “This is not charity,” she stressed, adding: “This is a moral, environmental, and economic imperative to guarantee international peace and security and true climate justice.” She underscored the need to recognize and mainstream the humanitarian implications of sea-level rise, whose compounding effects might spark conflicts over land as well as dangerous migration patterns, which would exacerbate the exploitation of vulnerable groups. She welcomed progress made by the International Law Commission on the legal implications of sea-level rise, and voiced support for the request for an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as the consultation with the International Court of Justice pertaining to the obligations of States with regard to climate change. Costa Rica also encourages a discussion of the implications, in international law, of acts that cause irreparable ecological damage, including a possible definition of ecocide.
EVANGELOS SEKERIS (Greece), aligning himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, pointed out that the issue of sea-level rise is directly linked to the application and implementation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As the constitution of the oceans, the Convention provides the answers to questions concerning sea-level rise and any related peace and security issues. In providing predictability, stability and certainty, the Convention entails the preservation of baselines, outer limits of maritime zones and the maritime entitlements deriving therefrom. It also imposes no obligations to review or recalculate baselines or the outer limits of maritime zones that have been established in accordance with its provisions, he noted while underscoring the importance of safeguarding the stability of maritime boundaries. Turning to climate change, he underlined the need for enhanced efforts to rapidly reduce emissions and keep the Paris Agreement alive. By addressing the impacts on peace and security of sea-level rise, the Council can serve as a driving force for creating synergies among States, United Nations bodies and regional and international organizations. He then highlighted the need to improve awareness of climate-related security risks.
SURIYA CHINDAWONGSE (Thailand) said that “Bangkok is sinking” alongside many of his country’s beaches and low-lying cities. With its economy dependent on tourism and agriculture, this is a threat to livelihoods in his country, he said, adding that sea-level rise also raises questions concerning statehood, maritime zones and boundaries as well as the protection of affected persons, many of which are fundamental to the maintenance of international peace, security and stability. Calling on the United Nations to urgently address this issue, he said the international community must join hands in responding and prevent the world from reversing its development gains. Sea-level rise presents greater risks of tensions and threatens sustainable development trajectories, he said, adding that the International Law Commission’s work will be crucial because of the fragmented international frameworks on this topic.
JEEM LIPPWE (Federated States of Micronesia), aligning himself with the statements to be delivered by the Alliance of Small Island States, Pacific Islands Forum, Pacific Small Island Developing States and the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, underscored that sea-level rise poses an acute threat to the peace and security of States such as his own. However, there is a distressing school of thought in international law and discourse holding that once rising seas inundate the land territory of a State, then that State automatically ceases to exist and no longer enjoys statehood among the international community. Urging the Council to reject this position, he called on the organ to make clear that the loss of land territory due to climate-change-related sea-level rise does not automatically translate to a loss of the statehood enjoyed by the people of that territory. He also called on Member States to support Vanuatu’s initiative to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change. Echoing the call for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Climate and Security, he said that such an individual could strengthen the Organization’s ability to understand and respond sensitively to all facets of the challenge posed by climate-change-related sea-level rise — including its implications for statehood and other matters of international law.
JOSÉ ALFONSO BLANCO CONDE (Dominican Republic), associating himself with the Alliance of Small Island States and the statement to be delivered by the Group of Friends of Climate and Security, noted that increased coastal erosion, salt water and other issues threaten food production and livestock and endanger infrastructure and town planning. The Caribbean is losing land mass, causing forced migration, displacement and demographic tension. Stressing that no region is exempt from sea-level rise — increasing up to 30 centimetres by 2050 — and endangering the existence of nations, he cited Kiribati, which is just one metre above sea level. His country lacks the necessary resources to address the challenge, and cannot update baselines, external limits or geographical coordinates of its maritime zones, given that developing island States depend on maritime areas, and any attempt to change them is an infringement of their peace and security. In addition, the Inter-American Development Bank has estimated the cost of addressing climate change could cause losses of $22 billion by 2050 — or 10 per cent of the Caribbean economy. Stressing that Guyana, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have the largest populations living on low-lying land, he further pointed to the massive arrival of algae affecting his country’s coastline.
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana), expressing his solidarity with small island developing States, pointed out that Africa contributes very little to global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, it bears the greatest negative impacts with climate change-induced incidents having intensified in recent years and climate-forced migration and internal displacement forecasted to reach up to 113 million people by 2050. Nevertheless, Africa is determined to adapt to the consequences of global warming and prevent further loss, damage and climate change-induced conflict, he stressed, before spotlighting his Government’s efforts to identify climate risk hotspots and develop a national blueprint to put forward people-centred climate action. As Africa’s responses must be based on the best available data and information, existing commitments for climate adaptation finance and ensuring universal access to early warning systems must be kept. Where there is no other option, the world must help communities move out of harm’s way and direct investments towards prospective settlement areas. For their part, regional organizations should support joint forecasting and planning among their member States. In the interest of climate justice, the onus is on those who bear the primary responsibility for climate impacts and the international community as a whole to face these issues head-on, he underscored, emphasizing: “We must all live up to our obligations and responsibilities. For Africa and all communities in coastal and low-lying areas, our brothers and sisters especially in the Pacific Island countries, it is imperative that we act urgently.”
DAVID BAKRADZE (Georgia), aligning himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, emphasized that addressing climate-related consequences and future risks is a matter of global urgency that can only be addressed through joint and resolute action. Tackling the security impacts of climate change should be at the core of the Council’s conflict prevention agenda and should be a subject of in-depth analyses, he advocated, as he welcomed that organ’s increased focus on this topic, broadened discussions, inclusion of climate-security language within its resolutions and the establishment of institutional architecture such as the Group of Friends on Climate and Security and the informal expert group. Assessing climate-related security risks and responding to them should be a greater part of the Council’s work, including the Organization’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities, he added. Turning to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, he spotlighted his Government’s efforts in addressing climate change through its updated nationally determined contributions and its long-term low-emission development strategy.
ILANA VICTORYA SEID (Palau), speaking on behalf of Pacific Small Island Developing States and associating herself with the Alliance of Small Island Developing States and the Pacific Islands Forum, said that while rising seas create issues for all coastal States, they are an existential threat to low-lying and atoll islands throughout the Pacific. Therefore, Pacific small island developing States led a novel resolution on climate change and security at the United Nations General Assembly, adopted in 2009. Outlining the impacts of rising sea levels in the region, including flooded coastlines and forced migration and displacement, she enumerated a number of severe measures to address such issues in the region. These included the “migration with dignity” strategy introduced by President Anote Tong in Kiribati, and the purchase of 5,500 acres in Fiji for supplementary food production to combat food insecurity and to provide a potential location to settle if sea-level rise renders Kiribati uninhabitable. Similarly, the nation of Tuvalu has launched an initiative to upload a virtual version of their country into the metaverse as a means to preserve their country and culture, she said, adding: “It sounds like science fiction, something we might see in a movie about some made-up disaster, but these are two real-life examples that are happening today.”
Asserting that given that Pacific Islanders’ identities are grounded in their countries, which have been their home for thousands of years, paying for relocation, as the United States President Joseph Biden’s Administration has done for three tribal communities in Alaska and Washington, is not a solution they can accept, nor one they have fiscal space to undertake. She called on the international community to do more to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Outlining action the Council could take to address sea-level rise risks, she reiterated her call for support to the need to secure maritime zones, even in the face of rising sea levels, and requested support for the initiative spearheaded by Vanuatu, and supported by the Pacific Islands, for an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the obligations of States in respect of climate change. Further, she reiterated her call for a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Climate Change and Security, and invited the Council to visit the Pacific, witness sea-level rise first-hand, and hear the stories of those impacted.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), aligning himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, pointed out that the current generation may need saving first and sooner than expected. As adaptation strategies must be holistic and based on the best available science, international cooperation has a crucial role to play in climate action. Latvia supports the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in scaling up climate action and enhancing the resilience of frontline countries; looks forward to the forthcoming report on a multidimensional vulnerability index; and is closing following the work of the Commission on sea-level rise. International courts and tribunals notably play an important role in clarifying the applicable rules that guide the conduct of States and other actors in dealing with the climate crisis, he continued, voicing his support for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. He then called on the Council to embrace existing climate challenges and ensure that the impact of sea-level rise is considered in a cross-cutting manner. He also encouraged all countries to commit to more ambitious climate targets in their updated nationally determined contributions.
ANTHONY JOHN HINTON (Canada), aligning himself with the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, emphasized that sea-level rise is already threatening the lives of the 40 per cent of humanity that live in coastal communities. Sea-level rise is an existential threat for the citizens of small island States, he said, noting that the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise disproportionately affect women, girls, Indigenous and other historically marginalized communities. In this context, he stressed the importance of the meaningful participation of those most impacted to significantly address climate change and sea-level rise, highlighting the Rising Nations Initiative launched by Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. Canada is actively working to foster resilience in the most vulnerable areas, he recalled, spotlighting initiatives such as the Canada-Caribbean Resilience Facility, a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank to strengthen Caribbean States’ resilience and ability to build back better in the wake of natural disasters; and the Ocean Risk and Resilience Alliance, a multi-stakeholder alliance investing in coastal resilience with a focus on the Global South.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland) stressed that the science is clear: a series of reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have starkly outlined what the future holds if the international community does not act urgently. While disappointed over the use of a veto to block the adoption of his country’s joint resolution with Nigeria on climate and security, he nevertheless urged the Council to use its tools to address this issue, especially in light of the over 600 million people in low-lying coastal areas directly affected by sea-level rise and the many more impacted by displacement, food insecurity and resource scarcity. Spotlighting his Government’s efforts with its partners, he emphasized the need to ensure that international financial institutions account for the specific vulnerabilities of small island developing States. He then welcomed the International Law Commission’s inclusion of sea-level rise on its agenda and stressed that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea must be a key consideration for any response. “Action now to deepen our understanding of how climate change is impacting insecurity and conflict is essential if we are able to respond effectively,” he underscored.
ODD REIDAR HUMLEGÅRD, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), said that, while the immediate impacts may differ across regions — and disproportionately strike the most vulnerable — the climate crisis affects everyone. Pointing out that such crisis is a “threat multiplier”, he noted that rising sea levels lead to resource scarcity, with organized criminal groups exploiting this situation for profit; climate-induced migration flows raising the demand for people-smuggling services; and increasingly frequent natural disasters aggravating local grievances and feeding conflict, terrorism, fragility and instability. While no one country or organization alone can mitigate the implications of climate risks, he pointed out that the global law-enforcement community is at the frontlines of protecting communities and combating the criminal networks who exploit and fuel natural disasters to their advantage. In addition, INTERPOL’s environmental-security and vulnerable-communities programmes have “long been assisting our 195 member countries in tackling the climate-security nexus”. He urged the international community to harness the Sustainable Development Goals and INTERPOL’s complementary “Global Policing Goals” to strengthen global capacity to investigate environmental crime; protect resource-dependent communities; build mechanisms to protect biodiversity and natural resources; and disrupt organized crime networks.
JOSEPHINE MOOTE (Kiribati), noting that her country’s land is no more than three metres above sea level, described its eroding coastlines, destroyed food crops and its fresh water contaminated by intruding sea water. Although sea-level rise affects every Member State, its impact is greater for the most vulnerable low lying island nations, such as hers. Further, rising seas and climate change remain the most destructive force, undermining the Government’s efforts to improve the well-being of its population, their participation in the economy and the promotion of peace. Calling on developed countries to double their provisions on climate finance to developing countries for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025, she suggested the Council invite non-Council members to brief on the most vulnerable regions, including the Pacific. As well, maritime boundaries should remain permanent and baselines not be affected by climate change-induced sea-level rise. National and local actors are fundamental to achieving real impact on the ground, integrating traditional knowledge systems and solutions. Data gathering and monitoring are also key elements of adaptation, she said, underlining the importance of providing provisions for access to justice for victims of climate change under international law. She called on the Council to consider a resolution that takes into account the security implications of climate change, similar to the resolution proposed in 2021.
FATUMANAVA-O-UPOLU III PA'OLELEI LUTERU (Samoa), speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), emphasized the importance of talking less and taking more action to prevent and minimize the impacts of climate change going forward. Nonetheless, the impact of climate change on small island developing States is already and will continue to be extraordinary. However, he pointed out that sea-level rise resulting from anthropogenic climate change did not have an effect on the group’s statehoods or sovereignty, adding: “No matter the effect that sea level rise may have on our land territory, we are large ocean States.” To that end, he recalled the AOSIS Leaders’ Declaration of September 2021, which affirmed that there is no legal obligation under the Law of the Sea Convention to keep baselines and outer limits of maritime zones under review nor to update charts or list of geographic coordinates once deposited with the Secretary-General. Further, such maritime zones and the rights and entitlements that flow from them shall continue to apply without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate change-related sea-level rise.
On the issue of statehood, he said that the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States is not relevant to the question of continuation of statehood. Rather, there is a fundamental presumption of its continuation in international law. Turning to the obligation of States to address all the risks associated with sea-level rise, he said that cooperation in this regard is “not only a policy imperative; it is a legal obligation for every State”. Such cooperation is also a matter of equity, he emphasized, pointing out that AOSIS members are among the lowest emitters of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, although they face the most severe consequences of sea-level rise. Therefore, to expect small island States to shoulder the burden of sea-level rise, without assistance from the international community would be the pinnacle of inequity, he stressed, calling for more discussions on international commitments, including on climate finance. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should remain the primary forum for discussions on climate change, he added.
AMATLAIN ELIZABETH KABUA (Marshall Islands) outlined the security implications of sea-level rise as well as action pathways within the Council’s mandate. The Council should take note of the ongoing action taken by the Marshall Islands regarding geo-referenced maritime boundaries. These boundaries are intended to preserve both stability and the legal definition of its unique regional characteristics, including the Pacific waters. Despite severe threats — such as sea-level rise — her country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty remain defined as State practice, she asserted. The Council should further address the importance of security and common State fragility in the Oceania region and encourage the United Nations system — including the Peacebuilding Fund — to strengthen engagement in supporting national structures for security. Moreover, the Council should identify the scale of resilience and adaptation actions needed to reduce security risks from sea-level rise inundation, she emphasized.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya), noting that any inaction and lack of ambition will be extremely costly, urged the international community to marshal and direct all human, institutional and financial resources towards a multi-sectorial, multi-pronged and whole-of-system approach to climate change. As his country is an affected coastal State, he underscored the ability of the Council to shine an important light on sea-level rise and its implications on conflict. At a minimum, he explained, this will encourage all stakeholders to act with more urgency and ambition as the issue rises in the list of global priorities. By recognizing the climate, peace and security nexus, it can incorporate climate adaptation and mitigation measures in all its work — including special political and peacekeeping mandates — and ensure their faithful implementation. The international community should also tap into and build upon UNEP’s work across science, policy, technology and finance in order to better coordinate collective actions to climate resilience and green economies. To ultimately slow sea-level rise, all countries — especially industrialized ones — must drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, achieve their targets under the Paris Agreement and provide support to developing countries on resilience-building and climate adaptation, he stressed.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy), aligning himself with the statement to be made by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, highlighted the need to raise awareness on the existential threat posed by sea-level rise, which can lead to permanent submergence of land and the disappearance of entire coastal areas across the world. Extreme sea levels are also causing more frequent flooding, loss of ecosystems and salinization of soils. As a consequence, the survival of many small island developing States is at risk, while other climate-vulnerable countries are experiencing damages to their infrastructure and losses for their industries. Poverty, food insecurity, resource scarcity and displacement are also linked to sea-level rise in many coastal areas. Against this backdrop, he said that every organ of the United Nations — through coordinated multilateral action — should address the adverse implications of climate change. He also stressed the need to address the legal implications of the rise in sea level.
VILIAMI VA'INGA TŌNĒ (Tonga), speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, observed that climate-change-related sea-level rise is a threat multiplier for Pacific peoples on many levels. The international community will need to address important questions, including those relating to statehood, maritime zones, rights and entitlements. He also stressed that, to safeguard international peace and security in the face of such sea-level rise, the maritime zones established pursuant to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea must be preserved and maintained. He went on to recall that Pacific leaders declared in 2021 that maritime zones — and the rights and entitlements that flow from them — shall continue to apply, without reduction and regardless of physical changes connected to rising seas.
That declaration, he continued, also emphasized the primacy and centrality of the Convention, which was itself adopted as an important contribution to the maintenance of peace, justice and progress for all peoples. Further, it is rooted in the principles of legal stability, security, certainty and predictability that underpin the Convention. He went on to report that, from 27 to 30 March, the Pacific region will assemble to unpack the complex legal issues and implications posed by sea-level rise to statehood and the protection of persons affected by that phenomenon. This represents the Pacific region’s concerted efforts to contribute meaningfully to the International Law Commission’s important work on this topic. Welcoming Council support of these efforts, he added a call for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Climate Change and Security.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea), associating himself with AOSIS and the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the ominous march of sea-level rise in its outer small islands and coastal communities continues to worsen, with low-lying Pacific atoll nations at grave existential risk. The result is devastating and oftentimes irreversible for communities and countries. Urging the Council to effectively address non-traditional security issues such as this, he stressed that they must not wait until it is too late to address such serious implications for peace and security. Citing the protection of persons displaced by sea-level rise, he called for international cooperation to be operationalized to address that human rights and humanitarian issue. He also spotlighted the Pacific Island Forum’s Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise. Another serious implication concerns the fundamental issue of sovereignty, as existing statehood cannot be extinguished by sea-level rise or submerging, as a matter of international community law. He called on those Council members who continue to question the nexus between climate change and security to be realistic about the peril, as that organ has an important role to play. In addition, he urged that a Special Representative on Climate and Security be appointed to serve as a focal point.
SILVIO GONZATO, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, stressed the need for the international community to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to increase the capacity for adaptation, mitigation and resilience to climate change, particularly in the most vulnerable States. “It is timely and urgent that the Security Council takes up its role in addressing the adverse effects of climate change on peace and security,” he said, calling on the organ to integrate climate change-related security issues into its resolutions, when appropriate; to reconsider a resolution on climate change and security; and to consider the creation of a Special Representative on Climate and Security. He acknowledged steps taken to address climate change-related security threats, including the United Nations Climate and Security Mechanism, the establishment of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security, and the Secretary-General’s announcement on Early Warning Systems, adding that the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems initiative saves lives and livelihoods in least developed countries and small island developing States.
Turning to the work of the International Law Commission on sea-level rise in relation to international law, he said the European Union stands ready to support the process, adding that any response to the consequence of the slow-onset phenomenon should ensure preserving stability and security in international relations. Noting that the bloc is the world’s biggest contributor of climate finance and a major humanitarian donor, he outlined a number of its initiatives in supporting disaster risk reduction, anticipatory action, adaptation and mitigation efforts. These include support for 140 programmes by African, Caribbean and Pacific States and regional institutions to implement disaster risk reduction activities, through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. The Union, as the current chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, also works to address the challenge of population displacement prompted by disasters, climate change and environmental degradation. In addition, the bloc is funding more than 80 adaptation programmes in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, through the “European Union Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative”.
WALTON ALFONSO WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of CARICOM, pointed out that peace and security in the Caribbean region is being progressively decimated by sea-level rise. Its economic viability, health, well-being and cultural and social ways of life are all under threat as are the region’s development gains. While sea-level rise was historically seen as one of the main effects of climate change, today’s absence of concerted, collective action has made this a devastating and crippling reality for many of the region’s countries. Retreating coastlines not only affect vital ecosystems but also biodiversity, lives, livelihoods and the communities that rely on them, he explained. At the global level, sea-level rise can exacerbate the vulnerability of populations, especially those already in situations of armed conflict, violence or fragility and those whose capacities to cope with climate shocks and changes are limited.
Aligning with the positions of the Alliance of Small Island States, he stressed that there is no obligation under the Law of the Sea Convention to keep baselines and outer limits of maritime zones under review nor to update charts or lists of geographical coordinates once deposited with the Secretary-General. Maritime zones and the rights and entitlements that flow from them shall continue to apply without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes connected to sea-level rise. Since the potential loss of land territory is not a natural phenomenon but rather anthropogenic in cause, sea-level rise does not affect peoples’ ability to express their right to self-determination through statehood, he continued, adding that anything otherwise would be grossly inequitable and unjust. On the protection of persons, he underscored the international community’s legal duty of cooperation to assist affected States. Although the Caribbean region is doing its utmost to prevent assaults to its peace and security with the limited resources it has at its disposal, there are nevertheless limits to what it can adapt to. Against this backdrop, the international community must plan and operationalize a system to address loss and damage and provide equitable solutions in line with countries’ international obligations and rights to address difficult issues in a systemic manner. For its part, the Council should work closely with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and give adequate attention to the humanitarian consequences of climate-related security risks.
TAPUGAO FALEFOU (Tuvalu) stressed that the impacts of sea-level rise, its implications and consequences, are not just statistics. Tuvalu and many other small island developing States face these realities every day. The United Nations is founded on the fundamental principle of territorial integrity. “Yet, for us, this is being eroded on an epic scale,” he declared, noting that his country is at the forefront of a climate disaster. Facing the consequences of sea-level rise, rising sea water has contaminated ground waters, causing vegetation to die. Moreover, families are being forced to move, he said, cautioning that the situation is only going to get worse. He stressed that any solution must be co-created with the people of the island nations, not imposed upon them by the United Nations. Calling on States to take action now, he asserted: “We cannot wait any longer.”
CARLA MARIA RODRÍGUEZ MANCIA (Guatemala) emphasized the need to address the issue of climate change and sea-level rise as a threat to international peace and security since any postponement or lack of immediate and decisive action will have devastating long-term consequences. The Charter of the United Nations, domestic legal systems and the principle of sovereign equality must guide States as they address the challenge of climate change. In light of the tensions that can result from increased migration, the Council must live up to its Charter obligations by urging parties to settle disputes peacefully, including through the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Its approach must focus on conflict prevention and resolution through peaceful means and on the basis of scientific evidence, which in turn entails enhanced cooperation with the Economic and Social Council. International cooperation must notably include assistance and skills transfers to developing countries to enable them to meet their adaptation needs. Turning to the implications of rising sea-levels on State sovereignty, she underscored the need for the international legal order to provide sufficient certainty and stability to States. She then highlighted the importance of preventive and regional action.
SERHII DVORNYK (Ukraine) said that his country has always promoted intense, concerted action to address climate change and its security implications. Noting that rising seas undermine the viability of low-lying regions around the world — particularly small island developing States — he stressed that this is not just a climate issue. Rather, it is also one of security, both for the countries affected and the world writ large, he said, adding that displacement of people, destruction of infrastructure and changes in coastlines are worrisome prospects in regions already characterized by tension. Observing that sea-level rise is a slow-onset event that provides Member States and the United Nations time to prepare and respond, he expressed concern that the Russian Federation’s aggressive behaviour is undermining the international community’s ability to concentrate on resolving existing global threats. Further, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has affected global capacities to address climate-related threats and has exacerbated the global food crisis. Against that backdrop, he underscored that common actions to combat global threats like climate change and to protect countries exposed to rising sea levels would be more efficient and targeted if a just peace in Ukraine is achieved.
JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) said that the interlocking nexus around sea-level rise may lead to the possibility of conflict, in addition to the exodus of rural and local communities due to lack of resources, increasing tensions and instability. Member States should deploy a collective and concerted effort to mitigate the effects and prevent probable consequences, focusing on sustainable solutions. Noting that Bahrain is an island State, he called for global solutions to the global problem, adding that his country is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 through initiatives for carbon reductions and investment in renewable energy. He voiced support for the exchange of best practices and skills transfers to address the challenge.
MARGO REMINISSE DEIYE (Nauru), speaking for the Group of Friends on Climate and Security, said climate change-fuelled sea-level rise poses a substantial threat to island nations globally, with an average sea-level rise of 25-58 centimetres predicted by the middle of the century along their coastlines. Depending on temperature scenarios, between 130 million to half a billion people live in areas that will be submerged in the long run, which will be devastating for small island developing States, where a third of the population resides below 5 meters above sea level. Against this backdrop, she emphasized the need for the global community to accelerate adaptation and mitigation efforts and for States to undertake ambitious action to implement the Paris Agreement, including decisions under the pact, including the Glasgow Climate Pact.
She also called for enhance efforts to be taken to contain the security consequences of sea-level rise by improving States’ resilience to climate change with regard to disaster risk reduction. In this regard, she welcomed the Secretary-General’s announcement on Early Warning Systems. Noting that climate change is spurring a multidimensional crisis, increasing the risk of conflict and inter-State tensions, she added that a recognition of the relationship between climate change and peace is crucial to better support effective responses to the challenges it poses to peacebuilding. To that end, she welcomed the work of the Peacebuilding Fund and its collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme and the International Organization for Migration, in the first climate security project in the Pacific. Further, she renewed her call for regular reporting by the Secretary-General on the security implications of climate change; the appointment of a Special Representative of Climate and Security; for mediation and peacebuilding; and the inclusion of women in these processes.
SAMADOU OUSMAN (Niger) stressed that adopting a resolution on the security risks of climate change will strengthen the Council’s capacity to better understand and address this phenomenon while enabling it to take informed action. He then spotlighted the loss, damage and displacement being caused by climate shocks and rising sea levels throughout the African continent. To avoid uncontrolled movement that exposes people to new risks, people and communities must be provided with the information and resources they need to undertake information decisions regarding if, when and where to move. To that end, his Government will build on the efforts of the African Climate Mobility Initiative by working closely with the Global Centre for Climate Mobility to carry out an in-depth analysis of climate-related migration dynamics and integrate this information into Niger’s adaptation and development plans. Although climate change is a threat multiplier for States and social cohesion, it is first and foremost a threat to the security and well-being of people and their communities. As such, the international community must prioritize the development needs and aspirations of these people while protecting them through adequate investments in climate adaptation, he said, emphasizing that it must not fail this test and lose public confidence.
THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives), aligning herself with the Alliance of Small Island States, recalled that in 1987 - when she was nine years old - the surge of tidal waves inundated her island and flooded her home. In response, her Government initiated an emergency conference on the issue of sea-level rise. Today, the humanity stands on the precipice of a triple planetary crisis – an interlinking of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss - she observed, noting that rising sea levels and extreme weather events pose serious threats to the very existence of small island States such as the Maldives. Highlighting the contribution of human activity to abrupt changes in the Earth system, she reported that scientific data are clear that climate change will continue to exacerbate its impact on oceans and their biodiversity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change anticipates that sea level could rise by half a meter by 2,100, she warned, noting that such a scenario suggests that low-lying coastal areas like the Maldives could become uninhabitable by 2050. On the role of the Council, she said “the ask is not for the Security Councill to solve climate change, but for it to recognize and address risks posed to peace and security by climate change”. In this regard, she said that monitoring the security implications of sea level rise will greatly assist taking action to prevent tensions and conflicts that may result from it.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, pointed out that the negative effects of rising seas appear long before lands are submerged, as evidenced by coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion of aquifers, soil salinization and flooding of critical infrastructure. Of particular concern is the potential seawater infiltration of low-lying nuclear power plants and repositories containing radioactive waste from nuclear-weapons testing, such as on Runit Island. While these threats require timely climate-change adaptation and mitigation strategies, affected States often lack the means to adopt them. He therefore urged developed States — which have disproportionately contributed to climate change — to make financing more easily accessible to coastal States so they can adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, foster climate resilience and respond to loss and damage. He went on to point out that, due to the many deleterious effects of sea-level rise, many of those affected have no choice but to flee their homes. These climate migrants, however, are not recognized as refugees by international conventions and do not enjoy any legal protection. While noting that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration calls on States to develop solutions for such climate migrants, he urged the international community to do more to clarify where — and on what legal basis — affected populations can relocate across borders.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina), spotlighting the condition of statehood in the event of the eventual loss of territory, said the International Law Commission is the competent forum with respect to legal aspects of the subject. The Law of the Sea Convention is the main relevant framework that regulates all activities in the oceans and seas. Further, the starting point for the measurement of maritime areas under national jurisdiction are the baselines, where the normal baselines are the low tide line along the coast. In terms of legal certainty, she called it appropriate to consider that States — once the baselines and outer limits of areas of a coastal or archipelagic State have been duly determined — should not be required to be changed in the event that sea-level change affects the geographical reality of the coast. With respect to the effects of changes in the line along the coast on the agreed maritime borders, it is critical to emphasize that the concept of “fundamental change of circumstances” is not applicable to border agreements pursuant to article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Both international jurisdiction and leading jurists agree with this point of view. She also noted that the International Law Association has recommended an interpretation of the Law of the Sea that favours the preservation of rights over maritime areas.
MARK ZELLENRATH (Netherlands), aligning himself with the European Union, said that the danger posed by sea level-rise to his country in the longer term is “severe”, with famously significant parts of its territory below or at sea level. Noting that throughout history, the loss of land has catalysed conflict over resources, through forced displacement and other threats to peace and security, he pointed out that a one-metre sea-level rise, as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if carbon emissions are not curbed, would pose a significant risk to populations in river deltas and coastal areas, and therefore deserves the attention of the Council. On adaptation, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s call for 50 per cent of public climate financing to be spent on adaptation, noting that the Netherlands spends close to 70 per cent on it. He also stressed the need for adequate risk assessment and water management, especially in the Global South, adding that the upcoming United Nations Water Conference, to be held in March, and co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands, will provide a perfect platform to address such challenges in depth. Further, he called for comprehensive reports to analyse risks to peace and security due to sea-level rise, adding: “The better we are aware, the better we can prepare.”
MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh) pointed out that a one-metre rise can result in the inundation of a large area of his country and the potential displacement of more than 40 million people by the end of the century. To address this multi-dimensional threat posed by climate change and sea-level rise, his Government has adopted comprehensive national policies and strategies. However, such national measures will have little to no impact if the global response to sea-level rise and its diverse implications remains slow and inadequate. Since sea-level rise may create new risks and exacerbate existing ones, there must be a broad understanding and recognition of its implications in order for there to be action at the national, regional and global levels. There must also be a concrete legal framework and effective mechanism to address the forced displacement of people, he said, spotlighting the Secretary-General’s action agenda on internal displacement as an important opportunity to step up collective action. He then highlighted the importance of addressing risk and vulnerabilities in a holistic manner; underscored the need for climate finance, technology transfers and capacity-building; and called on developed countries to fulfil their commitments. He also urged all to support the request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.
MOHAMMED ABDULAZIZ H. ALATEEK (Saudi Arabia) voiced concern over increasing environmental challenges faced by the international community that require combined international efforts to achieve constructive solutions and protect categories of the population exposed to environmental threats and environmental degradation. Highlighting the importance of addressing climate change and its effects on sustainable development, he described sea-level rise as one of the major effects of climate change faced by developing and least developed countries. Saudi Arabia addresses the challenges of climate change through the implementation of a circular carbon economy approach, reforestation, land rehabilitation and protection of coral reefs at the local as well as the regional level. Moreover, the Government aims to ensure that solutions and techniques used are comprehensive and provide financing for all available solutions. Saudi Arabia promotes a balanced approach to mitigate emissions, he said, noting that adaptation measures create an environment more resilient to climate change.
ANTONIO RODRIGUE (Haiti) said that the most-serious physical impacts of gradually rising sea levels in low-lying coastal areas are floods, the displacement of wetlands, coastal erosion, increasing vulnerability to coastal storms and the salinization of surface- and ground-water. These are environmental problems, but they also affect the security of these populations by generating social tensions within a country or triggering conflict between neighbouring States, to name a few. In Haiti, this phenomenon is a direct threat to coastal settlements and the anticipated increase in average sea levels and marine temperatures have implications for most national sectors, including fishing, agriculture and tourism. Further, existing sources of concern are being exacerbated by others relating to climate change, which is likely to contribute to even greater deterioration of the Haitian coastline. Stressing that climate issues have tangible effects on international peace and security, he said that “security” today is a multidimensional concept that extends beyond traditional military issues to encompass “emerging threats” to peace. These emerging threats are more diffuse, fragmented and social than those that are military in nature. He stressed, therefore, that security management must be part of a global approach that rejects unilateralism to leverage the strength of interdependencies.
ALHAJI FANDAY TURAY (Sierra Leone) pointed out that his country has prioritized engagement on climate security in its candidacy as a non-permanent Council member for 2024-2025. His Government is notably a core member of Vanuatu’s initiative to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on States’ obligations with respect to climate change. The unprecedented challenge of climate change demands an immediate, urgent, comprehensive and multidimensional response which undertakes a “whole-of-UN” approach, he stressed. Noting the Council’s engagement on security implications, he called for a climate change approach to case specific and thematic issues. Since climate change is a risk multiplier that can exacerbate insecurity, the Council must unite on the role it must play in addressing this threat under its mandate and in appropriate circumstances. On sea-level rise in particular, the Council must pay attention to identifiable ocean-related climate security risks and threats such as territory loss, humanitarian consequences, State sovereignty, statehood, maritime delimitation and disputes. He then welcomed the Commission’s study of sea-level rise as an example of the critical synergy that can be developed through a whole-of-Organization approach and through preventive mechanisms.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan), taking the floor for a second time, noted that in previous statements by the Chinese and Russian Federation delegations, there were references to the discharge of advanced liquid processing system-treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the sea. Japan will never approve the discharge of the water into the sea if the water does not meet regulatory standards based on international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and international experts have been reviewing Japan’s efforts, and the review will continue. She confirmed that Japan will take measures before commencing the discharge, as appropriate, taking into account the observations of the review. The water to be discharged has concentrations of radioactive materials far below the regulatory standards. Japan has been explaining this matter to the international community in a highly transparent manner based on scientific evidence and will continue doing so, she stated.
Mr. ZHANG (China), also taking the floor again, responded to the representative of Japan, underscoring that the implications of sea-level rise would be even more dramatic if what is rising is a nuclear-contaminated sea and noting that Japan intended to release 400 tons of nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific in the first quarter of the year. Such water is estimated to last for 30 years and severely endangers the marine environment and the lives and health of people of all countries. Therefore, the issue is “by no means a private matter for Japan”, he stressed. Voicing regret that Japan has failed to put forth a science-based explanation on key issues, nor conducted consultations with stakeholders, including neighbouring countries, he said that such behaviour is irresponsible. Responding to assertions that the water is harmless, he said that he doubted it, as if that were the case, Japan would discharge it into their own rivers or lakes. He called on Japan to take seriously the legitimate concerns of all parties, and to not take the liberty of discharging the water without prior consultation and agreement with neighbouring countries and relevant international organizations.
* The 9259th Meeting was closed.