20 july 2011

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. [continued]

UNEP News Centre
Food Insecurity

Natural disasters challenge food security in several ways-loss of productive land from sea-level rise, destruction of crops and damage to food distribution networks.

Meanwhile, we now live in a world so interconnected that a drought or a flood in one part of the globe one day can challenge supply chains and move commodity markets the next.

Some of the emerging temperature rise scenarios may also challenge the basic ability of some parts of the world to practice agriculture as a result of crops being unable to tolerate new climatic conditions or, for example, as a result of the drying out of forests?natural systems that recycle nutrients needed to grow crops and which are also the font of many rivers needed for irrigation.

The IPCC's 2007 assessment, for example, concluded that "Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation".

In an open letter, published in March last year, Brazilian and American scientists carrying out research in the Amazon outlined findings from the 2005 drought that confirmed a large surge in tree mortality alongside sharp increases in forest fires.

Meanwhile, many fish stocks are already depleted as a result of over fishing. Higher surface sea temperatures can also affect fish stocks. Higher sea temperatures in the North Atlantic have been linked to declines in copepods, creatures towards the base of the food chain upon which young fish such as cod rely for food.

Higher sea surface temperatures are also likely to threaten coral reefs?key ecosystems linked to healthy fish stocks. 500 million people in developing countries rely on fisheries and aquaculture for livelihoods.

Conflicts over Resources

Competition over scarce water and land, exacerbated by regional changes in climate, are already a key factor in local-level conflicts in Darfur, the Central African Republic, northern Kenya, and Chad, for example-when livelihoods are threatened by declining natural resources, people either innovate, flee or can be brought into conflict.

In total, 145 countries share one or more international river basins. Changes in water flows, amplified by climate change, could be a major source of tension between States, especially those that lack the capacity for co-management and cooperation.

Changing glacial melt patterns will have major implications for populations living downstream of mountain regions like the Hindu-Kush, the Pamirs and the Andes, while key river systems such as the Nile, Mekong and the Tigris-Euphrates could all be affected by changes in water supply.

As climate change opens up access to natural resources in the Arctic, including major untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, how will increasing competition for ownership and access be managed? Can new forms of environmental diplomacy address such transboundary risks or are territorial sovereignty issues likely to increase political tensions?

Mr. President,

Today's debate does not come in a vacuum. Only three weeks ago the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization launched a new study on climate change and food security.

UNEP is a partner with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, working on framing a response to the climate change and food challenge issue with the Global Environmental Change and Food Systems initiative hosted by Oxford University.

The China Geological Survey Institute, under the Government's Ministry of Land and Resources, is drafting new water conservation policies as a result of recent assessment of glacial melt in Qinhgai-Tibet Plateau.

The researchers, from the Qinghai Provincial Geological Research Institute and the Beijing-based China University of Geosciences, estimated that the area of glaciers at the headwaters of the Yangtze Rivers had declined from over 1,200 square km to close to 1,000 square km since the 1970s.

Similar retreats are being seen across the Andes, with concern for water supplies to cities such as La Paz and Quito, considered high in 10 to 20 years time.

Earlier this month the Environment and Security initiative (ENVSEC) published a comprehensive assessment of the Amu Darya river basin in Central Asia and measures for improved cooperation between Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

ENVSEC is a partnership between several UN agencies and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Its conclusion was that tensions over this shared water resource?Central Asia's longest river-are likely to intensify as a result of historical legacies but also emerging ones such as planned hydropower projects; irrigation demands and climate change with temperatures forecast to rise by 2-3 degrees C over the next 50 years or so.

Meanwhile, countries in the Sahel including Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Mauritania have also recognized the security implications of climate change and natural resource conflicts in their national policies and adaptation plans. A number of developed and developing countries alike have also reflected these risks in their national security strategies and defense plans.

These in many ways are intertwined with wider challenges and opportunities facing each and every economy?how can countries, at different points in their development path, work together on a transformative agenda on what is now being termed a low carbon economy?or more broadly defined as a resource efficient Green Economy?

Not as a break on development, but as a catalyst for investing and re-investing in the kinds of clean tech industries that produce markedly less greenhouse gas emissions and thus reduce the risks of dangerous climate change, while also more intelligently and sustainably investing in, and managing, our ecological infrastructure (for example, forest ecosystems which enhance resilience and store carbon) that will be central to a more stable, equitable and peaceful world.

This will be a key focus of Rio+20, taking place in June next year 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, where the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, is one of the two major themes.

Implications for Maintaining Global Stability and Security

The question today is what kind of supportive or strategic role could or should the United Nations play in this landscape, assuming that Member States consider climate change to be a phenomenon with potentially profound implications for global security and stability in the future.

Mr. President,

If we look at the history of peacekeeping operations mandated by the Security Council, we find that 10 operations costing a total of US$35 billion dollars have been deployed to countries where natural resources have played a key role in the conflict.

This figure represents half of the total peacekeeping budget ever spent.

The science informs us that the quantity and quality of these resources will be at increasing risk from climate change and its impacts and that, without broad and cooperative action, irreversible tipping points could occur with perhaps sudden and abrupt shocks to communities and countries.

There is a great deal of knowledge and analysis accumulated over many decades on the conditions and the triggers that can trip tensions and turmoil into conflict and war.

The scientific evidence that has been rapidly expanding and maturing over the past three decades on climate change adds a new and additional dimension to this analysis and knowledge.

Humanity is at a point in its history where it has, for the first time, the power to fundamentally alter within one or two generations the conditions upon which societies have evolved over millennia. It is the speed of environmental change, including climate change that will be increasingly at the heart of our collective concern and response.

The question is less and less one of whether climate change is a security threat or a threat multiplier.

But one of how we can assess and manage the risks associated with climate change and its security implications as an international community.

There can be little doubt today that climate change has potentially far-reaching implications for global stability and security in economic, social and environmental terms which will increasingly transcend the capacity of individual nation States to manage. In that context the sustainable development paths of individual nations will increasingly be predicated upon the ability of the international community to act collectively in addressing these developments.

While a changing climate has already become an inevitability as a result of historical emissions, our ability to manage its consequences and avoid its most dangerous possibilities will depend on a proactive strategy of evolved and perhaps new international platforms, mechanisms and institutional responses: Ones which both anticipate security concerns and facilitate cooperative responses.

Indeed there is no reason why the international community cannot avoid escalating conflicts, tensions and insecurity related to a changing climate if a deliberate, focused and collective response can be catalyzed that tackles the root causes, scale, potential volatility and velocity of the challenges emerging.

In bringing forward a response that enhances global security and cooperation on the climate challenge, the world can perhaps also better manage risk from numerous other challenges and in doing so diminish tensions between nations and lay the foundations and possibilities of a more sustainable and equitable peace.

Thank you.

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