Seventy-eighth Session,
53rd Meeting (PM)

General Assembly Decides to Convene High-Level Meeting 25 September to Address Existential Threats Posed by Sea-Level Rise, Adopting Draft by Consensus

The General Assembly decided today to convene a one-day high-level plenary meeting in late September to address the existential threats posed by sea-level rise.

Adopting without a vote a draft decision (document A/78/L.35), the Assembly decided to convene the meeting on 25 September 2024, within existing resources.  It also requested the Assembly’s President to finalize organizational arrangements, including on a possible outcome document, for the high-level meeting through open, transparent and inclusive consultations with Member States.

Prior to the vote on that decision, the representative of the Secretariat read out statements regarding its implications for budgeting and meetings scheduling.  She said the Secretariat’s ability to implement the mandate created by the event would depend on the availability of adequate cash.  Furthermore, the meeting would overlap with other mandated Assembly meetings, as on 25 September 2024 the Assembly will hold the second day of the general debate at its seventy-ninth session.

Speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, the representative of the Russian Federation stressed that the Secretariat requires the necessary financial resources to be available to fulfil its mandate.  Assuming this event will allow all delegations the opportunity to speak, he expected priority to be given to Member States.  He further noted that his delegation interprets paragraph 2 of the draft decision — which envisages consultations with Member States — to mean that the General Assembly will adopt finalized modalities for the event at a later date in accordance with regular practice.

The representative of Tonga, speaking in explanation of vote after the vote for the Pacific Islands Forum, recognized the threats of climate change and sea-level rise as defining issues that imperil the lives, livelihoods and well-being of Pacific peoples, communities and countries. Coastal States — particularly small island developing States and low-lying States — are disproportionately impacted by these phenomena.  On the proposed high-level meeting, he acknowledged that climate change poses “the single greatest existential threat to the Blue Pacific”.  However, he emphasized that “language about existential threats must be carefully calibrated to avoid undermining certain rights, entitlements and duties under international law”. 

In this respect, he voiced reservations about any overly general language regarding the “existential threats” posed by climate-change-related sea-level rise, particularly with respect to certain legal matters.  Rather, it is critical that the international community cooperate to ensure that States’ rights, entitlements and duties under international law are preserved. He further opposed language suggesting that climate-change-related sea-level rise poses an existential threat to the legal status of maritime zones, rights and entitlements. Relatedly, the Forum cannot support language that portrays climate-change-related sea-level rise as posing an existential threat to the legal constructs of Statehood and sovereignty.

The representative of Tuvalu, speaking for the Coalition for Addressing Sea-level Rise and its Existential Threat, cited sea-level rise as “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and safety of affected Member States”.  It is increasingly clear that sea-level rise will result in irreversible impacts to the habitability of affected countries and communities, he said, underlining the need to ensure legal stability in the face of this phenomenon.  This is particularly critical for States whose economies depend on their maritime zones for livelihoods and economic resources.

He further stressed that no effort should be spared to safeguard the inalienability of the sovereignty and Statehood of affected Member States, noting that their UN membership will continue notwithstanding sea-level rise.  Given that sea-level rise threatens the rich cultures and traditions of small island States and low-lying communities, collective action is needed to protect and preserve their unique heritage.  Also, climate financing must be increased for small island developing States and affected communities, he noted, calling for strong partnerships to address the adverse impacts of sea-level rise.

The representative of El Salvador underscored the need to maintain the relationship between sea-level rise and the protection of persons affected by this phenomenon.  Also, the theme and future consideration of this high-level meeting must be in close consultation with the scientific community — particularly the intergovernmental group of experts on climate change — she said, noting the importance of avoiding duplication of work.

The representative of Samoa, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, noted that — for 30 years — “we have been the world’s moral compass in international climate negotiations”.  This reflects the Alliance’s ongoing commitment to engaging in the development and application of international law on an issue that deeply affects small island developing States.  Underscoring that the Alliance does not see climate change or sea-level rise as posing an existential threat to Statehood, sovereignty or UN membership, he urged caution in characterizing climate change as an existential threat to nations — particularly small island developing States — in relation to international law.  The international community must not conflate the physical reality of territory either disappearing or becoming uninhabitable with the legal rules concerning Statehood and sovereignty, including permanent sovereignty over natural resources.

On that, he stressed:  “No matter the physical changes wrought by the climate crisis, we will remain sovereign States.”  Once a State is created by a people expressing their right to self-determination through Statehood, that Statehood will cease only if another form of expression of the right to self-determination is explicitly sought and exercised by that people, he said.  He also recalled that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not obligate States to keep baselines or outer limits of maritime zones under review, nor to update charts or legal coordinates once they are deposited with the Secretary-General.  Welcoming discussions on the utility of an outcome document from the high-level meeting, he said that — if such a document were to be developed and adopted — it must be with the full consent of all Member States.

Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), President of the General Assembly, then underscored the urgent need to address the existential threats posed by sea-level rise by standing firmly with the most vulnerable and acutely affected communities.  Detailing real stories of the dangers posed by these threats — ranging from irrecoverable loss of ancestral lands to the lasting destabilization of livelihoods — he declared:  “Now is not the time to stand idle and watch.”  Instead, the Assembly must act deliberately and in solidarity with those on the frontlines of this phenomenon.  In this context, he said that the proposed high-level meeting will chart a path towards an action-oriented outcome that would prevent, protect and resolve the untenable situation arising from sea-level rise.

In other business, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, the draft decision titled “Questions deferred for future consideration”, contained in the report of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) titled “Review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations” (document A/78/664).  Through that text, the Assembly decided to defer, until the first part of its resumed seventy-eighth session, consideration of a Secretary-General report on amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules (document A/78/177) and a related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/78/671).

The Assembly also took note of a letter by the Secretary-General (document A/78/707/Add.1) informing that Antigua and Barbuda and Iran have made the payment necessary to reduce their arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Further, it declared Bulgaria elected as a member of the Committee for Programme and Coordination for a term of office beginning on 16 January 2024 and expiring on 31 December 2026, having first decided to dispense with the requirement for election by secret ballot.

For information media. Not an official record.