CAN Statement given at the UN Security Council Arria meeting on climate change and security


CAN Statement at UN Security Council Arria Meeting

15 February, 2013

Given by Wael Hmaidan, Director of Climate Action Network 


Thank you Co-chair:

I am making this statement on behalf of Oxfam and the Climate Action Network, a coalition of more than 700 national and international NGOs.

Let me join others in thanking governments Pakistan and the United Kingdom for providing us with this opportunity, and also thank the panel for their excellent input.

For many years, civil society has warned that our collective planetary failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions entails grave consequences. These consequences are already being felt, first and foremost by the poorest and most vulnerable within our societies. They include a heightened risk of poverty, inequality, instability, and conflict that ultimately affects us all; and they demand an unprecedented commitment to collective action to drastically reduce this risk.

Nowhere can this climate risk be more clearly seen than in the global food system. 870 million people will go to bed hungry tonight, a billion more are malnourished. They are among the billions of people in developing countries that are dependant on agriculture for their livelihoods. As net food consumers, many spend more than 50% of their incomes on food. Many are living in post-conflict or fragile States.

Climate change means they are facing increasing uncertainty from rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns that act as a drag on crop yields. Droughts or floods can wipe out entire harvests, as we have seen in recent years in Pakistan, in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel. And when extreme weather hits major world food producers – like last year’s droughts in the US and Russia – world food prices rocket. This presents a major risk to net food importing countries, such as Yemen, dependant on imports for 90% of its wheat consumption.

It is clear that mass hunger, exacerbated by climate change, can be a major driver of instability. As the Zulu proverb goes: "Plenty sits still, hunger is a wanderer." The food riots and social unrest seen in the wake of the 2008 food price spikes were not a one-off phenomenon, but a sign of the risks we face through our failure to feed a warming world.

Extreme weather has continued to drive and exacerbate food price volatility in the years since. This week the US seasonal drought outlook warned that severe drought conditions persist in much of the region. With other major producers like Australia and Russia either suffering or barely recovering from extreme heat and drought too, and with world cereal stocks falling again, world food security remains on a knife-edge. 

In addition to these new and increasing pressures on the food system, climate change is also driving scarcity in critical natural resources like water and land. While conflicts between and within countries over such resources are driven by multiple factors, it seems clear that in many cases climate change is a contributing or exacerbating factor, that should be taken into account in our efforts towards prevention and risk reduction, crisis management and peace-building.

Finally, we are gravely concerned by the prospects for mass displacement of people within States and across borders - which the Security Council has already recognised as a threat to international peace and security - driven directly by climate impacts like sea level rise, droughts, desertification and indirectly by its impacts on food and natural resources. For countries such as Bangladesh and many Small Island Developing States, the threat to their people is already visible; but it is a threat which peoples around the world – rich and poor alike – will face in the coming years and decades.

We recognise that the decision to leave one's home and community is often the result of multiple factors, but that climate change impacts are often a critical driver. For example, the thousands of people who were displaced from Somalia into neighbouring countries in 2011 were not only fleeing conflict, but in search of food in the wake of drought. As climate change impacts become increasingly severe and in some cases permanent, unlike migration driven by conflict or natural disasters, climate-forced migrants may have no hope of ever returning home. Without adequate provisions from the international community, the consequences of displacement and landlessness on such a scale for international peace and security will be profound.

For more than 20 years, global civil society has raised the alarm about the diverse consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions on our international community. We are already seeing the impacts in our work around the world, and we know from scientists that the window to prevent further, non-linear and catastrophic impacts is now rapidly closing. As repeatedly urged by the Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, leaders must act fast with all the tools available to reduce this risk.

This includes a major scaling-up of public investments to help communities and countries adapt to the changing climate. It includes a gear-shift in international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions to prevent much greater harm. And it includes adequate preparation for permanent loss and damage inflicted by climate change, including the establishment of a new international mechanism under discussion at the UNFCCC and the recognition of new rights for climate-forced migrants.

We stress that many of these initiatives can and must be delivered through the UNFCCC, - in particular through the legally binding global instrument to be adopted by its 2015 conference. The UNFCCC should remain the central locus of fair global efforts to confront climate change. But given the far-reaching consequences of our ongoing failure to take decisive action in that forum, we are grateful for the opportunity to explain again here today the gravity of the risks we see posed to the international community by unchecked climate change.