Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Side Event “Staying ahead of the curve – Climate security and international law” at the UN General Assembly
“In ten years, my home might be gone.”
This is what a local fisherman told me when I visited Palau earlier this year. And this showed me the difference between reading about the climate crisis in theory back in Berlin and being where the climate crisis is not the future but people’s reality today.
This house stands close to the water on a beach, a wonderful spot directly at the ocean. But you could see with every wave how this wonderful home and paradise is disappearing year by year because of the sea rising more and more every year.
And Foreign Minister, Gustavo, thank you for welcoming me to your home and for your hospitality and kindness. But thank you also for showing me and my country, and also many other Europeans, what it means when we speak about the climate crisis. It hits your home, it hits your country, today and already yesterday.
We witnessed first-hand that the Pacific island states are at the frontline of the climate crisis. The rising sea levels threaten the livelihoods of your people, they threaten the existence of entire states. But we don't need to look ten years ahead to see the devastating effects of the climate crisis.
In Pakistan, the most severe flooding in recent history washed away villages and left around 3.4 million children in need of assistance.
In Ethiopia, millions of people are hungry today due to the worst drought in 40 years.
These examples show climate change is an existential threat to international security. This is the biggest security threat we’ve had as a world and international community.
The big ocean states of the Pacific, the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans have, for a long time, been the leaders on climate issues.
And without you, we might not have concluded the Paris Agreement, and we would most certainly not have agreed on the 1.5 degree limit.
Today, again, the Pacific is leading the way on considering the legal implications of climate change and safeguarding themselves from its future impact.
We definitely need to make progress on mitigation and adaptation financing. I would like to underline this, as one of the major industrialised countries responsible for this damage, and also responsible for the loss of homes. We are therefore now really outspoken, committed to addressing losses and damages in the upcoming COP 27. And at the same time, we need to assess how all international systems need to be adapted to better deal with the realities of a world impacted by climate change.
This includes the international legal framework. The climate crisis also poses a challenge to international law because it confronts all of us with completely new and challenging questions: what happens if rising sea levels also put a state physically at risk? Does it still exist? What happens not only to the homes, but also to passports? Does international law provide us with the right instruments to handle millions of people being displaced by climate impacts? What do we call them? Climate refugees? Displaced persons? Do we have sufficient tools to handle such huge population movements? How do we manage this kind of resettlement?
Of course, these are not only legal but also political questions. Politicians in particular sometimes have a tendency to hide behind the law. But we have to address the law to find political answers.
We cannot leave the law alone to solve all our climate and security challenges. But the law can provide us with the clarity and certainty we need in order to build a safe and secure future.
And we see right now, in New York, how important trust in international law is. So if we are now addressing the future of millions of people all around the world from Somalia to Palau and back to Chile, then people need to have confidence that we don’t only care for them with money, we don’t only care for them with words, but also with a guarantee that they have the legal right to live in safety in the future.
Such clarity can raise ambitions, also in climate action, which is so badly needed around the globe. To this end, I think we need a two-pronged approach. Firstly, we have to apply existing legal frameworks, especially within the UNFCCC, in a way that takes climate change into account, as well as the security threat.
And secondly, we need to create a new legal framework where necessary, especially with regard to the individual rights of those faced with the climate crisis.
We don't know how this new legal framework will be written in the future. But what we do know is that with our exchange today, we can write a small chapter of this new legal framework. So thanks for joining us today and thanks to all the experts here on the stage. I really welcome the fact that we are all here today to address the biggest threat on earth, the climate crisis.