Under Secretary-General Rosemary A. DiCarlo's remarks at the Arria Formula meeting on “Climate and Security risks: the latest data. What can the UN do to prevent climate-related conflicts and how can we climate-proof UN in-country activities?”
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I would like to thank the co-sponsors for convening this meeting on climate and security risks, particularly on Earth Day.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has commanded much of our attention of late. However, we cannot let up on our efforts to address the climate emergency – another global phenomenon with far-reaching implications, including on peace and security.
The recent report by the World Meteorological Organization on the State of the Global Climate underlines the magnitude of the challenge. We have the highest concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in three million years and ocean levels are at record highs. The last decade was the hottest on record. These effects have impact not just on the natural world but on the daily lives of people, communities and nations. They often hit hardest in already fragile contexts.
While climate change is rarely the main driver of conflict, it multiplies existing risks and exacerbates factors that we know can lead to insecurity. The manifestation of these linkages is highly specific to context.
In Sudan, for instance, the convergence of climatic pressures on agriculture and pastoralism with ethno-political factors contributed to the escalation of violence in Darfur and made the conflict harder to resolve. In Syria and Iraq, Da’esh exploited increasing competition over natural resources and weaponized water by controlling access and diverting rivers. In Central America and the Caribbean, the destruction wrought by extreme weather events has devastated critical infrastructure and displaced populations, and in some places, has been linked to a spike in crime rates.
The risk of a vicious cycle of climate disaster and insecurity is real. It is no coincidence that among the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, half are also dealing with violent conflict.
The Secretary-General has repeatedly warned that the far-reaching effects of climate change are a danger to peace.
We have seen how climate change undermines our core objectives of conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
In Somalia, for instance, climate stressors are a leading cause of large-scale displacement, which reduces the coping capacity of communities and undermines livelihoods. This in turn lowers the opportunity cost of negative coping strategies, such as recruitment into terrorist or criminal groups, and hampers efforts to build peace.
Climate security is about re-examining our underlying assumptions of prevention and sustaining peace, understanding how climate change affects our mandates and working with partners to find innovative solutions.
I would like to highlight four areas of focus for the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs as we address climate-related security risks.
1) We are strengthening our capacity for integrated risk analysis.
Climate-related security risks are the product of interactions between climate stressors and pre-existing socio-economic, political and demographic factors. Successful prevention and response strategies depend on an understanding of the context. We must be careful to avoid blanket assertions and template approaches.
Consider the Lake Chad Basin, where a complex web of environmental degradation, socio-economic marginalization and intercommunal tensions has eroded the resilience of 45 million people and created a multidimensional crisis.
To further our understanding of climate risks, DPPA has launched a joint initiative with the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme – called the Climate Security Mechanism. With the aim of building capacity and strengthening partnerships, the mechanism has developed guidance to promote the systematic analysis of climate-related security risks and support response.
I want to stress that gender sensitivity forms a critical part of our analysis. Women often carry a disproportionate burden as inequalities and discrimination increase their vulnerability and undermine their coping capacity. At the same time, as providers of water, food and fuel for cooking, women often possess unique knowledge that may allow them to protect livelihoods. They bring a different perspective to the climate security discourse.
2) We are integrating a climate lens into our efforts at mediation and preventive diplomacy.
As climate change affects resource availability and forces large-scale socio-economic and political transitions, the motivations and calculations of conflict actors may change. Partnering closely with national and regional actors, where possible, we are working to ensure our peacemaking and mediation strategies take these effects into account.
In West Africa and the Sahel, where climate change exacerbates competition over natural resources, our regional office – UNOWAS – leads UN efforts to find peaceful solutions to the increasingly deadly conflicts between pastoral and farming communities. Working with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it has identified good practices for local conflict prevention and dispute resolution that factor in climate trends, promote inclusivity, strengthen intercommunal consultation committees, and conduct targeted advocacy.
3) We are investing in peacebuilding programmes to help strengthen the resilience of States and communities to cope with climate-related security risks.
Integrated peacebuilding and climate adaptation programming can reduce vulnerabilities and increase resilience, charting a path of escape from the vicious cycles of climate disaster and conflict.
We count on women and youth as partners and leaders in this regard. As climate change alters traditional gender roles, power relations and livelihood patterns, new entry points for engaging women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding emerge.
For example, where environmental degradation forces men to migrate seasonally in search of livelihood options, women often assume greater responsibility in households and communities.
In the cross-border area of Mali and Niger, for instance, the Peacebuilding Fund aims to reduce conflicts related to natural resources through strengthening the active participation of women in decision-making processes and supporting their economic empowerment.
4) We are committed to working with and learning from our partners.
Communities all over the world have for centuries effectively adapted to the changing environment in peaceful ways. Local knowledge provides a critical foundation for community-based adaptation and peacebuilding.
In parts of the world affected particularly hard by climate change, regional organizations often lead the charge against the negative consequences for peace and security.
The Pacific is on the front lines of climate change and in the Boe Declaration laid out a comprehensive framework to address the implications for regional security. The UN is supporting the Pacific Islands Forum and other partners to operationalize the Declaration and enhance regional capacity to address climate-related security risks.
Further, we welcome efforts by the African Union to integrate climate change into the African Peace and Security Architecture and look forward to continuing our collaboration on climate security in the context of the AU-UN Joint Task Force.
Climate-related security risks already form part of reality for millions of people around the world. Science tells us that without decisive action, climate change will further accelerate, with compounding implications for peace and security.
The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that we live in an interconnected world. The notion of a distant, isolated crisis is an illusion. Peace and security risks brought on by climate change in one part of the world could have broader implications beyond that region.
Knowing what we know, the need for our collective action is urgent.