Statement by His Excellency Abdulla Shahid, Minister of Foreign Affairs
at the High-level Meeting on
“The Humanitarian Impact of Combined Conflict, Climate and Environmental Risks”
25 September 2020
I wish to thank the delegations of Belgium, the EU, the Republic of Niger and the International Committee of the Red Cross for organizing this timely event on the “Humanitarian Impact of Combined Conflict, Climate and Environmental Risks.”
The Maldives has argued for decades that climate change is the defining issue of our time. Exactly one year ago, in an event similar to this, I pointed out that we can no longer ignore the humanitarian and security challenges that climate change presents to the world’s most vulnerable populations. Climate change is a threat that spans across continents, touching every nation; the human impact of this threat is enormous. Of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, 60% are also affected by armed conflict. We know that long-lasting conflicts and insecurity threaten people’s ability to cope with climate change and undermine the ability of societies to adapt to the consequences of extreme weather. If left unchecked, this crisis could worsen both economic and social tensions in conflict or post-conflict zones, with serious implications especially for the poor and marginalized populations.
We know climate change is a threat multiplier, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. With this in mind, the President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih presented a plan, entitled Climate Smart Resilient Islands, at the UN Secretary-General's Climate Action Summit last year. The plan seeks to achieve environment-related targets in a number of areas, including designating environmentally protected areas, safeguarding food and water security, promoting green tourism, and ensuring climate-resilient infrastructure and sustainable waste management practices.
As the effects of climate change increase, the interaction of climate, environment and conflict-related crises are also projected to increase over time. Despite this combined threat, the humanitarian impact of climate change remains one of least understood dimensions of the climate crisis. For this reason, I join with the organizers of this event in their call for a deeper analysis of combined conflict, climate and environmental risks and vulnerabilities, and for further reflection on how humanitarian responses should adapt to bolster the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a crisis can change the world with tragic consequences. Beyond the immediate health crisis of the pandemic, predictions are that it will cost the world economy up to 5 percent of GDP and push us towards the worst recession in decades.
In the case of Maldives, by the end of 2020, our economy is expected to contract by more than 10 percent. It is the developing countries, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable, that have been hit the hardest during this crisis, not necessarily by disease itself, but by the devastating socioeconomic ripples launched by tattered social safety nets, inequalities and disregard for our planet. Consequently, COVID-19 has further fueled both economic and social tensions in conflict or post-conflict situations, with serious implications for the most vulnerable populations.
But this pandemic is also an opportunity to reverse the conditions that brought us here. Our experience with COVID-19 has truly demonstrated what could be achieved if we act and work together to address global challenges. We need to exercise the same urgency as our response to COVID-19, to tackle climate change. Most importantly, recovery from crises must not be driven by a zero-sum game of economy versus environment, or even health versus economy.
As we recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we must adapt so that our systems are more resilient to future crises. We must also assist countries experiencing the adverse effects of conflict and climate change to build back better, so that we may continue to progress towards a fair, equitable and sustainable future.
My heart goes out to the millions of people dealing with armed conflicts who are also affected by climate change and the COVID-19 crisis. They are the first to suffer and the worst hit. Unless the international community takes decisive action to address climate change, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a higher potential for endangering communities struggling to survive conflict, insecurity or poverty.
I invite you all to share your experiences and work with the international community to reduce the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable populations. I would like to conclude by thanking the organizers for this important discussion.
I thank you.