UNEP Chief Addresses UN Security Council Debate on Climate Change and Security
Address by UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at UN Security Council Debate on the impact of climate change on maintaining international peace and security, 20 July 2011.
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to address this debate of the Security Council on security and climate change?the second such debate you have held in the past four years.
My presentation today will focus on how our current understanding of the Earth's changing climate has profound implications for global stability and security. In revising and presenting the available evidence I wish to highlight three perspectives which are particularly relevant to this debate:
1. Science of climate change: What are the implications of what we know and do not know for interpreting future scenarios? How significant are "tipping points" and feedback mechanisms in interpreting the impact of climate change on our economies, societies and the Earth's life support systems?
2. Climate change as a threat multiplier: The scale and pace of climate change acts as a multiplier which could result in simultaneous and unprecedented impacts on where we can settle, grow food, maintain our built-up infrastructure, or rely on functioning ecosystems. Managing the potential disruption, displacement and adaptation to phenomena such as sea-level rise or extreme weather events, represents a profound challenge to sustainable development at the local, national and international level - both in economic and geopolitical terms.
3. Managing the risks of climate change: Uncertainty will continue to define our response to climate change. By its very nature, both in terms of its causes and its effects, climate change requires a global response. Accelerating the transition towards a low carbon future is but one dimension of reducing future risks. However, we must also develop a risk management strategy which anticipates and addresses the capacity of the international community to cope with significant disruptions to our societies which, left unaddressed, carry within them the seeds of tensions, chaos and conflict.
Underpinning the question of whether there is a link between climate change and security is the science.
Let us all acknowledge from the outset that the world does not have perfect knowledge on current or future climate change.
Determining the contribution of rising greenhouse gases in respect to an event such as the severe drought currently affecting the Horn of Africa is a challenge.
There may be a climate change signature, but there is also natural variation and wider environmental change underway, such as deforestation, land degradation and over exploitation of other natural resources such as freshwaters.
But human beings have never planned strategies or responses based on 100 per cent certainty, rather we make decisions based on risk assessments-intuitively when as an individual we cross a road, or deliberately when Governments or companies make decisions from economic planning and infrastructure to emerging security concerns.