Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier at the 17th Forum Global Issues on “Climate Change as a Security Risk”

14.06.2007 - Speech

— Check against delivery —

Honourable Members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

When we decided some time ago to take Climate Change as a Security Risk as the subject for this year's Forum Global Issues, some people perhaps wondered whether the title was too gimmicky. It certainly isn't – unfortunately, I have to add. Thus all of us here today – politicians, representatives of international organizations, business and associations – are called upon all the more urgently to do what we can to ensure that this risk does not become a reality!

Amid all the progress we made in Heiligendamm, one thing was clear – that without exchange with academics, businesspeople and members of civil society, politicians are not in a position to formulate answers, develop possible solutions for the coming decades and implement them. That applies both in an international context and to national issues.

The foreign and security policy challenges presented by climate change are enormous. The reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the flagship report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) have very recently shed even more light on the issue.

Films such as “An Inconvenient Truth”, which we are screening this evening, media reports and public statements have raised public awareness and been instrumental in inspiring international policymakers to address the topic, right up to the United Nations Security Council.

You have engaged in intensive discussion over the past days. Increasing water shortages, harvest failures and extreme weather can lead to considerable social and political tension. Existing threats to international security can be exacerbated by climate change.

Weak states and their fragile institutions are in danger of collapsing completely, new conflicts loom over the distribution of resources, the pressure of migration is increasing.

And we will certainly not be able to help solve these problems if we establish new fronts. On the contrary, anyone who draws a climate policy confrontation line according to the criteria of “perpetrators versus victims”, “industrialized versus developing countries” or “north versus south” is taking the easy way out. That is far too simplistic.

For even among the emerging economies and developing countries major emitters stand face to face with countries which have contributed to climate change the least but are suffering the most. Take, for example, the small island states or large parts of Africa. New constellations therefore place entirely new demands on international negotiation approaches. However, new constellations also offer the opportunity to form new alliances which break out of the traditional moulds.

We must therefore be all the more persuasive in promoting our position – that an effective global climate policy is a central task and an obligation in this day and age. At the end of the day it will be a deciding factor for stability and peace in the world, now and in the future.

We have to formulate solutions at global and regional level and implement them with as much determination as possible. For we, the international community, can only win if we join forces, otherwise we will all be on the losing side. We Europeans have a special responsibility, not only as industrialized nations and emitters, but also as a political institution within an international framework. And this institution has plenty to offer. As I said to the European Parliament at the beginning of the week, Europe is founded on two principles. The principle of political visions which see well beyond the immediate future, and the principle of pragmatic solutions which are needed before we can take the many necessary small steps along the way to a larger goal.

I believe that Germany has fulfilled this responsibility in the past months as holder of the EU and G8 Presidencies. We have focused our efforts on international climate and energy policy. And within the European context we have set ambitious, some would say ground-breaking goals to reduce greenhouse gases, boost energy efficiency and expand renewable energies. The European Union is thus intentionally playing a pioneering and leading role in this area.

And before and during Heiligendamm we also managed to take the small – sometimes too small – often arduous but absolutely necessary pragmatic steps with our non-European partners, building on our European vision.

Heiligendamm has sent a strong political message – the goal to reduce greenhouse gases, or more precisely, to cut them by at least half by 2050, has been accepted. And – perhaps even more importantly – the G8 intends to conduct the actual negotiation process under the auspices of the United Nations and to agree on comprehensive climate protection measures also for the period after 2012.

Time is of the essence. The crucial negotiations will begin at the end of the year in Bali and ought to be concluded by 2009. We can do it. And, above all, we can do it together, in consultation with all the countries involved! We have thus sent a very important message during our G8 Presidency. We have strengthened confidence in the multilateral approach and in international cooperation, also across the Atlantic. But here, too, we must take a long-term view. For further steps are necessary. The international community must in future prove even more convincingly that it can act as one on global policy issues concerning resources and the environment. This applies to fertile land and clean water as well as to energy resources. Natural resources are not only public assets, which the state has to defend for the common good. They are also scarce assets, and are becoming even scarcer due to the acceleration in climate change.

Here we need a new form of détente. A form of détente which rests on a central pillar comprising the development of global and regional regulation mechanisms for the common use of resources as well as peaceful conflict resolution. And we need a new economic policy approach. An approach which recognizes the new tasks and opportunities facing our highly developed industrialized nations.

On our neighbouring continent Africa alone, global warming could lead to water shortages for up to 250 million people by 2020, with serious consequences for nutrition, agriculture and development in the affected countries. And the President of Uganda, a country which obtains 80% of its electricity from water power, is right when he describes climate change as an act of aggression not only against the people but also against the development of his country.

We also need preventive environmental diplomacy and resource-oriented industrial policy in the Middle East, which is already home to 5% of the global population with access to only 1% of global water supplies. And the forecast is dramatic. The World Bank predicts a drop of more than half in amounts of available drinking water per capita by 2050.

Environmental issues in this region – and not only there by any means – go hand in hand with issues of survival and security.

Together with the Middle East and Africa, Central Asia also offers examples of the danger posed when excessive use of resources is combined with more extreme environmental conditions, primarily with regard to drinking water. I was able to see this at first hand during my two trips this year.

Energy security and agricultural production in Central Asia depend to a large extent on water availability. The water issue harbours real potential for conflict in the region. And the situation is dramatic – only about half of the water is used efficiently. The picture is dominated by outdated irrigation technologies and infrastructure, as well as a one-sided focus on monocultures such as cotton. And we are all familiar with the photos of the disappearing Aral Sea.

We intend to tackle this problem before the end of our EU Presidency and will promote sustainable water management in the EU strategy on Central Asia.

The proposal to establish a water academy in Bishkek is also based on the idea of regional cooperation. The academy could serve as a beacon project, providing valuable impetus and promoting regional cooperation. For the countries of Central Asia can only counteract the negative consequences of climate change if they join forces rather than work against one another.

Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are examples of regions in which the close relationship between foreign and security policy issues and climate change is already apparent.

And these examples show that we need new regulation mechanisms in many areas to achieve a fair regional balance of interests.

We in Germany and in the European Union are ready to do our part. For we know that confidence in regional cooperation and resource management in many cases first has to be generated and often requires encouragement from outside.

The Federal Government and German foreign policy will remain actively involved in this area beyond our EU Presidency. Climate change and security have been put onto the EU's foreign and security policy agenda and we want the upcoming European Council at the end of this month to take up the issue and drive it forward.

The day before yesterday, addressing the European Parliament, I described European foreign policy as a core component of Europe's future. The findings of this forum have convinced me more than ever that we need a European diplomacy to face the foreign and security policy challenges presented by climate change.

This preventive approach also applies in an international context. I have therefore invited the foreign ministers of the G8 and G5 countries along with other key partners to come to Berlin at the end of the year to further pursue the foreign and security policy issues raised by energy security and climate change. As foreign ministers we want to send a message to Bali that we intend to make climate policy a driving force behind international cooperation and stability.

Thank you for your attention.

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