The Impact of Climate Change in International Peace and Security 

The case of Small Island Developing States

Organized by the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, Security Council Report and the International Peace Institute.

(20 April 2016, 1:00-2:45pm, International Peace Institute)


Let me start by recognising the leadership Italy, the International Peace Institute, and the Security Council Report have shown by hosting this important—and timely—discussion.

The Government of Italy has always shown a keen awareness of the challenges that climate change poses to international peace and security, particularly when it comes to Small Island Developing States. Thank you. I also want to thank Ambassador Bohemen of New Zealand for being here and for your country's long-standing support of SIDS and the issues we hold dear.

As earlier speakers noted, we stand at a singular moment in history. On Friday, the international community will come together to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. As a representative of a country that was one of the first to sound the alarm on climate change over 25 years ago, and a delegate involved in these climate talks, I can tell you we have been waiting for this day for a long time. The fact that 195 parties were able to come to an agreement is a remarkable achievement unto itself and bodes well for the role of multilateralism in this complex time we live in.

But, as significant as this occasion is, what matters to vulnerable communities like islands and, indeed, all of civilization, is not the ceremony but rather the concrete action we take to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the crisis.

Currently, the emissions reduction pledges on the table are insufficient to keep the average global temperature from exceeding the 2 degree Celsius threshold, to say nothing of the vastly safer 1.5-degree mark that islands were successful—against all odds—in having included in the Paris agreement.

If we hope to avoid the worst impacts of this crisis, including many with clear links to peace and security, such as catastrophic sea level rise, we need to do more to cut emissions and faster—well before 2020.

At the same time, while many of us have begun projects to strengthen infrastructure and coastal defenses, support for climate adaptation in islands and other vulnerable communities is not adequate and must be scaled up.

Adaptation efforts are essential to maintain our development progress. Cyclone Winston, which devastated Fiji earlier this year showed how a single extreme weather event is capable of wiping out decades of progress, and these storms seem to be getting more and more powerful by the year.

In fact, recent reports on ice sheet stability in Greenland and Antarctica raised the possibility that seas could rise more dramatically and much faster than previously anticipated, perhaps within 50 years or less.

Such an ominous prospect underscores the critical importance of preparing for a humanitarian crisis beyond what the international community has either imagined or planned for.

And, even if we are able to prepare for sea level rise tomorrow, other impacts that are just as threatening to political stability in islands and elsewhere have already begun to appear today. Food security, water security, and population displacement within and outside of national borders is heightening competition for scarce resources and reshaping the world map.

For example, new research into conflicts in Syria and parts of Africa—and the largest migration of people around the globe since the Second World War—has shown a connection to climate change.

We clearly have a responsibility to prepare for destabilizing events that have a high likelihood of occurring, particularly where peace and security are at risk.

The Security Council has frequently acknowledged that it has a central role to play in preventing conflicts before they happen, not just facilitating their resolution after it becomes too late. It has recognized the need to manage "root causes" of conflict, such as such as poverty and underdevelopment, competition over natural resources, and even HIV, which can raise social tensions and stoke preexisting antagonisms. Here and elsewhere, the Security Council has evaluated the problems and, working with the relevant agencies, used a variety of tools to address them.

The international response to climate change should be no different. Small Island Developing States have devoted a tremendous amount of energy to this issue at the United Nations. Pacific SIDS were the first to bring the security implications of climate change to the United Nations General Assembly back in 2009 and the group was also successful in advocating for a Security Council President's statement two years later.

Yet, while other vulnerable countries, experts, even and Security Council members have clearly understood that the threats are real and getting worse, we have still failed to act.

So what can be done?

Let me be clear, when it comes to climate change, the UNFCCC is and must remain the primary forum to mitigate the crisis, mobilize financial resources, and facilitate adaptation planning and project implementation.

But the Security Council has existing powers to help the international community prepare for the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our generation, and there are a number of actions that could be taken.

For instance, the Council could request an assessment of the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to these impacts, so that vulnerable countries can be assured that it is up to the task.

As the risk is so acute for small islands, and as we are often underrepresented within UN bodies, it may be appropriate for there to be a SIDS specific seat on the security council for us to coordinate with the body and other relevant UN organs to give the issue the attention it deserves and develop a response before it's too late.

Earlier this month, the Maldives became the fourth country to complete its domestic ratification processes for the Paris treaty. The first three, respectively, were Fiji, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau. As frontline communities we recognize the need for urgent climate action. We hope to see other countries ratify the agreement in quick succession in the weeks to come and more importantly take real efforts to cut emissions and prepare for the impacts that lie just round the corner, including threats to peace and security.

Thank you.