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Global Climate Crisis’s Dire Impact on Peace, Security Calls for Bolder Collective Action, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

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SG/SM/20926

Following are Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council high-level open debate on the maintenance of international peace and security: climate and security, held today:

I thank the Irish Presidency for organizing this timely debate. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a deeply alarming report. It shows that climate disruption caused by human activities is widespread and intensifying. The report is indeed a code red for humanity.

Much bolder climate action is needed ahead of COP26 [Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] with G20 [Group of 20] nations in the lead — to maintain international peace and security. Our window of opportunity to prevent the worst climate impacts is rapidly closing. No region is immune. Wildfires, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather events are affecting every continent.

The effects of climate change are particularly profound when they overlap with fragility and past or current conflicts. It is clear that climate change and environmental mismanagement are risk multipliers. Where coping capacities are limited and there is high dependence on shrinking natural resources and ecosystem services, such as water and fertile land, grievances and tensions can explode, complicating efforts to prevent conflict and to sustain peace.

In Somalia, more frequent and intense droughts and floods are undermining food security, increasing competition over scarce resources and exacerbating existing community tensions from which Shabaab benefits. In the Middle East and North Africa, which are among the world’s most water-stressed and climate‑vulnerable regions, a major decline in precipitation and a rise in extreme weather events is harming water and food security.

Last year, more than 30 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters. Ninety per cent of refugees come from countries that are among the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to the effects of climate change. Many of these refugees are in turn hosted by countries that are also suffering the impacts of climate change, compounding the challenge for host communities and national budgets.

And as the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause immense suffering, it is undermining Governments’ ability to respond to climate disasters and build resilience.

The threats are clear and present. But, it is not too late to act to ensure that climate action contributes to international peace and security. Let me highlight three absolute priorities in climate action.

First, we need unambiguous commitment and credible actions by all countries to limit global warming to 1.5°C to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. I urge all Member States to show more ambition in their nationally determined contributions by COP26 and to translate their commitments into concrete and immediate action. Collectively, we need a 45 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030.

Second, to deal with the already dire impacts of climate disruption on the lives and livelihoods of people all over the world, we need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience. It is essential that at least 50 per cent of climate finance globally is committed to building resilience and supporting adaptation. This need is urgent, as growing climate impacts remind us daily. Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion, and they are expected to reach up to $300 billion a year by 2030.

Huge gaps remain in adaptation finance for developing countries. We simply cannot achieve our shared climate goals — nor achieve hope for lasting peace and security — if resilience and adaptation continue to be the forgotten half of the climate equation.

This neglect is seriously endangering our collective efforts on the crucial road to COP26 in November. Developed countries must uphold their promise to deliver — before COP26 — $100 billion dollars in climate finance annually to the developing world. And they must ensure this reaches the most affected populations. The quality of this finance is also key. Grant financing is essential, as loans will add to already crushing debt burdens in the most climate‑vulnerable countries.

Third, climate adaptation and peacebuilding can and should reinforce each other. For example, in the Lake Chad region, dialogue platforms for cooperatively managing natural resources, supported by the Peacebuilding Fund, have promoted reforestation and improved access to sustainable livelihoods. In West and Central Africa, cross-border projects have enabled dialogue and promoted more transparent management of scarce natural resources, a factor of peace.

And as climate change is impacting water resources worldwide, we must leverage water for peace, drawing lessons from the past. For example, in the Sava River Basin in Eastern Europe, transboundary water cooperation was the starting point of regional reconciliation and cooperation after the deadly war in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Across all these efforts, women are critical agents of change. This Council has long recognized and sought to strengthen women’s role in sustaining peace. Women and girls face severe risks from both climate change and conflict, and their meaningful participation and leadership brings more sustainable results that benefit more people.

The United Nations is integrating climate risks into our political analysis, as well as conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiatives. The Climate Security Mechanism is supporting field missions, country teams and regional and subregional organizations to analyse and address climate-related security risks and shape integrated and timely responses.

Work is gaining traction in countries and regions where the Security Council has recognized that climate and ecological change are undermining stability. Our Regional Office in West Africa and the Sahel, in coordination with IOM [International Organization for Migration], UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] and the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], has launched a new initiative on peace, climate change and environmental degradation. This initiative will help the Economic Community of West African States, as well as other regional bodies and national and local governments, to harmonize efforts to reduce climate-related security risks in the subregion.

In South Sudan, 95 per cent of the population relies on agriculture or pastoralism and is thus affected by drought and unseasonal flooding. The United Nations peacekeeping operation, UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], is collaborating with FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and IOM to promote the peaceful resolution of farmer-herder conflicts.

We also recognize our responsibility to reduce the United Nations’ own carbon footprint. Eighty per cent of United Nations Secretariat carbon emissions come from our six largest peacekeeping operations. Guided by our Environmental Strategy for Peace Operations, we are working on new approaches to shift energy supply to renewable energy producers, with the intention of supporting renewable energy capacity, including beyond the lifetime of our missions.

We are all part of the solution. Let us all work together to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption to build peaceful and resilient societies. Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.