H. E. Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment
I would like to express my gratitude to President Santos, Under-Secretary General Lacroix, and Ms. Kadry for their invaluable insights.
In 2007, this Council convened for the first time to discuss the potential implications of climate change for international peace and security.
During that meeting, speakers raised concerns about the potential of climactic hazards, such as the loss of natural resources, rising sea-levels, and extreme weather events to act as catalysts of conflict.
However, the correlation between climate change and threats to peace and security was challenged by some, questioning the aptness of the Security Council as a venue to foster and expedite climate actions. The contours of this debate were established, which – despite the passage of 16 years – has seen little evolution.
Nevertheless, the threat of climate change as a “risk multiplier” is no longer a hypothetical scenario. It is a daily lived reality in various conflict settings around the world.
Scientific studies have delineated a complex relationship between vulnerability, climate change, and armed conflict, and how these elements can form a destructive cycle.
For example, in Somalia, the terrorist group al-Shabaab capitalizes on the persistent drought in the Horn of Africa, driving recruitment among displaced communities and imposing taxes on desperate farmers and herders. That resulting growth in al-Shabaab’s numbers and resources is increasingly reflected in its enhanced ability to attack government and international targets.
Just last month, the repercussions of this dynamic manifested when they killed 54 Ugandan peacekeepers serving as part of the African Union’s mission in the country.
Moreover, the Middle East, home to 14 of the 33 most water-stressed countries globally, is further plagued by climate change – escalating tensions within and across national borders.
For example, Iraq’s acute vulnerability to climate change and water shortages endangers its post-conflict recovery through risking increased rates of displacement and the deterioration of agricultural livelihoods, as well as increased stress on relationships with neighbouring countries over water resources. In South Sudan, persistent flooding has worsened an already severe humanitarian crisis, hindering the UN peacekeeping mission’s ability to implement its Security Council mandate to protect civilians. Concurrently, the adverse effects of climate change have inflamed existing tensions between pastoral and farming communities, contributing to outbreaks of violent conflict.
In conflicts around the world, climate change has further entrenched the epidemic of gender-based violence and inequality, as women and girls are exposed to more precarious situations when natural resources and agricultural production are undermined.
These ramifications of climate change are only going to increase in intensity and strength over time, and there is a risk of their cumulative effects snowballing.
Despite these realities, the Security Council’s response has remained insufficient for two primary reasons.
Firstly, the unparalleled scale and complexity of climate change pose a unique challenge to our multilateral system’s response capacity. We stand before a global crisis where a myriad of economic, political, security, and historical factors intertwine, making international consensus extremely daunting.
Secondly, while the impacts of climate change on peace and security are highly variable and context-specific, they should not be overlooked. As recent research by the International Peace Institute maintains, the inability to easily isolate and quantify climate effects should not deter us from acknowledging and addressing the larger issue: climate change and conflict are mutually reinforcing.
Going forward, it is crucial that the multilateral system, including the Security Council, adapts to the systematic, slow-paced, and dispersed nature of climate change.
While the UNFCCC serves as the primary intergovernmental forum to negotiate the global response to climate change, its role was never intended to be exclusive.
It’s clear that addressing the climate crisis requires the specific expertise of other forums, as demonstrated by ongoing discussions about enhancing international financial institutions’ role in the climate response.
At the Security Council, this implies embracing innovative attempts to better understand and address the interplay between climate change, peace and security. The Council must approach conflict through a climate-sensitive lens. We must strengthen the capacity and mandates of relevant peace operations to incorporate climate change in their risk mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as efforts in conflict prevention and resolution.
This could be achieved by leveraging the work of the Climate Security Mechanism and the deployment of climate security advisors to UN missions, as well as making greater use of the informal expert group of the members of the Security Council on climate change, peace, and security. It should also be complemented by systematic data collection and reporting by the Secretary-General across relevant files. We must also avoid polarization around the Council’s consideration of the issue. The stakes are too high, ladies and gentlemen, to dismiss or vilify those with legitimate concerns about the Council’s jurisdiction. We should provide opportunities to hear from and engage with local representatives from frontline communities, particularly women and youth, as well as regional organisations driving climate-related initiatives, allowing them to propose solutions specific to their contexts. This would not only enrich the Council’s response by including local nuances and gender-responsive approaches to discussions of climate change and conflict, it would also strengthen the Council’s engagement with various stakeholders and develop sustainable solutions.
Across different but complementary fora, we must foster holistic solutions to this multidimensional challenge. At COP28 in Dubai later this year, the incoming UAE presidency plans to introduce a “Relief, Recovery, and Peace” Day. This is the first of its kind at any COP, and its purpose is to highlight the intersection of climate change, peace, and security — and propose practical solutions to prevent and address the climate burden on stability.
We are therefore promoting an ambitious agenda at COP28 in response to the critical lack of accessible, affordable, and sufficient climate finance – particularly for countries and communities experiencing humanitarian and security crises. They receive in some cases 80 times less per capita than other developing countries, which already receive inadequate flows.
The nexus of climate change, peace, and security may be an underdeveloped issue for this Council. However, if we choose to overlook it in our deliberations, we risk jeopardizing the long-term peace and security of people worldwide.
The time is now to fully expose and better comprehend how these phenomena interact, what role the international community can play, and how we can collaborate to build more prosperous, climate-resilient, and peaceful societies.