On April 20th, the eve of the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement by 170 countries at the United Nations, an expert panel at IPI took up the subject of climate change’s overall impact on peace and security and the particular threat it poses to small island developing states.
David Nabarro, the UN’s leading adviser on the subject, said that climate change was a “threat multiplier” which would menace the world with food scarcity and water shortages. It also represented a security concern, he said, because it “threatens the capacity of governments to meet people’s basic needs,” which in turn “greatly increases the potential for violent conflict, humanitarian disaster and contributes to migration.”
Nabarro, who is Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, said the adoption of the 2030 Agenda provides a solid basis for addressing the impact of climate change in a comprehensive manner. As such, he said, it is essential that climate action by local, national, multilateral, and civil society actors ”integrate climate action into broader development action.”
A statement read by a representative of the Mission of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations, on behalf of its Permanent Representative Ahmed Sareer, asked climate advocates to keep up the pace after the signing ceremony and look to implementation. “As significant as this occasion is, what matters to vulnerable communities like islands and, indeed, all of civilization, is not the ceremony but rather the concrete action we take to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the crisis,” he said.
The Paris Agreement is itself limited in scope, because it is a set of aspirational goals, said Shyla Raghav, Director of Climate Change Policy, Conservation International (CI). “But,” she said, “there is potential to leverage it, with national adaptation plans, for medium- to long-term adaptation.”
To build stronger, more resilient, and peaceful societies, she said, “We can’t work in a 3-5 year trajectory for development; we have to look longer term.”
Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, spoke about sharing his national experience devising strategies and technological instruments to tackle the ongoing rise in ocean and sea levels, with those islands whose continued existence is in question without action. “We have been pioneers in establishing partnerships with many member states, especially the most vulnerable ones, to promote climate change adaptation, the development of sustainable energy including renewable energy sources, early warning and disaster risk reduction,” he said.
Fifty-two countries form the membership the UN Economic and Social Council’s small island developing state group (SIDS).
It is thanks in large part to the advocacy of small island developing states that the 2015 agreement adopted the commitment of reducing the rise in global temperatures to less than 1.5 °C, Michael B. Gerrard, Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, explained. Earlier, it had been proposed to reduce the rise in global temperatures by less than 2 °C.
The “urgency of trying to keep well below 2 °C cannot be overstated,” he said, standing before a graphical representation of the catastrophic consequences of maintaining the status quo. With a 2 °C increase, “most of the SIDS would be largely or entirely under water,” and there would be “tremendous displacement from other low-lying places worldwide,” such as Bangladesh, the Nile Delta (Egypt), the Mekong Delta (Vietnam), and South Florida (US).
Building on the growing international commitment to address the impacts of climate change, Gerard Van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, and a member of the UN Security Council, emphasized the continuing role for the Council on climate change matters. Van Bohemen said the Council’s convening power is best positioned to make a difference in this regard.
Climate change is “not a future problem,” for SIDS, but “a real problem now,” he said. “Fiji saw that with a massive storm that wiped it out.”
When such challenges arise, “The Council is one tool in the toolbox that must be used,” he said. It will be essential to consider concrete ways in which the UN system, its member states, and other stakeholders can do more to enable SIDS to address this threat and its effects, he concluded.
The event was co-organized with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN, and Security Council Report, whose Director, Ian Martin, gave opening remarks.
Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations, moderated the discussion.
Statement by Permanent Representative of Italy Sebastiano Cardi at the IPI Policy Forum (April 20, 2016)
Statement by the Maldives at the IPI Policy Forum (April 20, 2016)
Small Islands, Developing States Highlight Plight Ahead Of Climate Change Signing (Bernama, April 21, 2016)