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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2011

United Nations Security Council: Maintenance of International Peace and Security - The Impact of Climate Change

Statement by Anthony Simpson, First Secretary - 20 July 2011

I thank the German Presidency for acknowledging the singular importance of this issue by calling this timely debate.

Let me first comment, Mr President, on some of the disagreements that have been aired in the lead up to today’s debate. 

New Zealand understands the concerns of some Member States regarding the Council taking up issues that go beyond the role and mandate accorded to it by the Charter.  However, for those low-lying small island states, including several in my own region the Pacific, for whom climate change poses the ultimate security risk – that of ceasing to exist as states and as communities – debates about whether this constitutes a legitimate topic for discussion in this body cannot help but seem somewhat abstract, and deeply divorced from the stark realities they face.

Mr President: 

The potential security implications of climate change have been well documented. 

They centre on the significant challenges faced by many communities in managing and maintaining their access to basic resources – land, food, shelter, and water – in the face of sustained climatic change.  Moreover, the Asia-Pacific has in the past few years faced a devastating series of natural disasters; and, in the coming years, such events are predicted to become even more frequent and severe. 

Such forecasts are deeply worrying for small island developing states such as those in the Pacific, whose challenges are all the more severe given their size, geographic isolation and relatively weak economic base, all of which increase their relative vulnerability to disasters.  Climate change is a risk multiplier, exacerbating existing development and environmental challenges which, if not addressed, could well lead to instability and conflict. 

And of course of some for some low-lying island states climate change poses a more fundamental threat, potentially undermining their viability and continued existence, and raising the very real prospect that we will witness forced migrations of an unprecedented nature and scale.  Put simply: Whole populations could be on the move; and, by any measure, that's a security threat.

Mr President: 

Several steps must be taken to prevent and address the security impacts of climate change and security. 

First, we must help build the adaptive capacity of developing countries so they can better cope with future climate-related events before they become security challenges.  Resilience to climate change requires more than building capacity to cope with specific physical impacts: it must also take account of existing and future resource use, to reduce pressures on resources so as to build in necessary buffers for when things go wrong, or when supplies are threatened. 

Second, and of equal importance, we must look to manage the scale of the security impacts of climate change through measures to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Addressing the symptoms alone will be insufficient unless we also address the cause.

New Zealand is committed through the UNFCCC negotiations to achieving comprehensive and effective global mitigation action to reduce emissions and implement effective adaptation measures.   To make meaningful progress towards these goals, this year’s Durban meeting must take the important step of implementing the Cancun Agreements.   This is more than just an economic, environmental and humanitarian imperative; it would also constitute an indispensible contribution to conflict prevention.  

It’s also important that adaptation and mitigation measures are effectively integrated into existing and future development activities, including peacebuilding and peacekeeping programmes.

New Zealand is currently working on adaptation and development projects through a number of bilateral, regional and multilateral initiatives.  Our climate change adaptation assistance in the Pacific places a strong emphasis on ‘climate-proofing’ new infrastructure.  One example is in the area of post-cyclone reconstruction, where infrastructure is being rebuilt to better withstand the increased intensity of extreme weather events.

Mr President: Sharing best practice and research will also be vital to developing and implementing comprehensive and effective practical measures to address climate change and its possible security impacts. 

New Zealand’s initiative, supported by many other countries, to establish the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases aims to ensure that efforts to reduce agricultural emissions do not compromise the food security of a growing global population. Put simply: No country will put its population at risk by reducing its agricultural production; so we need to find other ways of reducing associated emissions. 

Mr President:

Issues of climate change and security must be dealt with in an integrated manner across the breadth of UN agencies. 

We therefore support the call by Pacific Small Island Developing States for consideration of possible mechanisms to support the early identification of climate-related security challenges and to promote comprehensive and cohesive research, analysis and action to address their underlying causes.   

Mr President: 

Many countries hold serious concerns about the security implications of climate change for them and their neighbours.  But we have learned from past experience that such challenges can be addressed before they reach crisis point; that conflict need not be inevitable. 

Many of the actions required for achieving this lie outside the competence and mandate of this Council.  But understanding climate change as a driver of instability is nevertheless important to achieving a more secure future. 

I hope today’s discussions have taken us a step closer to achieving that shared understanding; and I hope that today the Council will send a clear and unequivocal message that it too is willing to play its part in our collective efforts to meet this challenge.

Anything less, Mr President, will be a deep disappointment to all the people of small, low-lying, island states such as our friends and neighbours in the Pacific.

I thank you Mr President.

 

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:49 NZDT