Opening address by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the Conference on “Climate Diplomacy in Perspective – From Early Warning to Early Action”

10.10.2011 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Minister Mahmud,
Minister of State Shareef,
Mr Popowski,
Mr Svilanovic,
Distinguished delegates and guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you most warmly to the opening of this international conference on Climate Diplomacy in Perspective – From Early Warning to Early Action, here in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. I am delighted that so many of you have made the time to come to this event in the busy month of October. Delegates from more than 30 countries spanning all the continents are here today, as are representatives of numerous international and regional organizations and the European Union. I would like to extend an equally warm welcome to the representatives of non-governmental organizations and scientific institutions who are attending this event. It is good to have you on board, for we can only deal with the consequences of climate change if we work together.

I would particularly like to welcome the members of this conference’s opening panel, some of whom have travelled great distances to be with us today. This is true of Dr Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s Minister of Environment and Forests, and Dr Mohamed Shareef, Minister of State in the Republic of Maldives Environment Ministry. Thank you both for coming to share your countries’ perspectives on the likely impacts of climate change.

Permit me to start off by noting, as the starting point for our discussion, that according to current scientific evidence physical changes to our environment are already occurring in many places. These include rising temperatures, rain failure and shifting rain patterns, rising sea levels, the melting of glaciers, violent storms and other harbingers of things to come. These changes will have adverse economic and social effects on our countries, and will be detrimental to development. This was reaffirmed right here only ten days ago by four scientists from Latin America, whom we had invited to a regional workshop on climate and security. We also know that the world population will continue to grow, but that in many areas water and food will become more scarce. In other words, what we’re here to discuss are concrete existential threats that many people will face in the immediate future and which we need to tackle or at least reduce now. This is an urgent task for us all. And it is a task of foreign policy in particular to bring this urgency home to everyone.

This conference in Berlin is one of the various activities the German Foreign Office has initiated this year in order to address the threat climate change is likely to pose to peace and security. The most important step was placing the issue on the agenda of the UN Security Council during the German presidency. Following a spirited debate, the Security Council acknowledged on 20 July 2011 that climate change can pose a threat to international peace and security. With your permission, I will quote a section of the German Government’s intervention in this debate, which was read by Peter Wittig, our Ambassador to the United Nations: “If we look at the conflicts on the Council’s agenda, it is noticeable that many of them, even today, are fuelled by desertification, water scarcity and cross-border migration. … We know that conflicts of this kind do not remain within the borders of a single country, but rather tend to destabilize entire regions. We should also bear in mind the fact that not all states and societies have the same capacity to adapt to the dramatic changes occurring to the world’s climate.” (End of quote)

But we must not simply offload our concerns about climate change onto the United Nations. Each and every member state also has to act itself. Every government, every foreign ministry and every civil society must face up to the known risks and develop appropriate responses. We have to plan and act today, even if some of the threats still appear very distant.

Climate change is man-made. We know that the most effective response to global warming would be a radical break with our present carbon-based economy and the creation of a carbon-free economy. But this cannot be achieved overnight. And even if we did stop pumping out carbon with effect from tomorrow, it has been shown that at least another 0.5°C would still be added to the present global temperature rise of 0.8°C. However, we are a long way from transforming our economies so quickly. And so we must be prepared to adapt to a world that will be characterized yet more by global warming and other climatic changes.

Just how should our foreign policy respond to climate change? We are trying to answer that question. By putting increased efforts into climate diplomacy and our international climate policy, we hope to contribute to recognizing the risks associated with climate change at an early stage and tackling them in close cooperation with our partners. This conference is intended to advance this cause.

The unanimous adoption of the Presidential Statement on climate change and security at the Security Council meeting of 20 July has lent new momentum to climate policy at international level. Moreover, two days earlier on 18 July, the European Union Foreign Ministers also underscored the importance of climate diplomacy. This momentum is urgently needed with only weeks to go before the next UN Climate Change Conference in Durban.

But this doesn’t mean that we should confine ourselves to simply describing the present threats at this gathering in Berlin, and leaving everything else up to the Durban conference. I hope that we can address the potential threats posed by climate change at this Berlin conference in an open and creative manner, and that we can agree on concrete, and maybe even new kinds of international cooperation. It would be most useful if we could draw up a set of recommendations for international action, especially in the regional organizations represented here today.

As you will no doubt have seen from the conference programme, we have organized three working groups to discuss three of the greatest risks presented by climate change. These will focus on that vital resource water, on food security, and on the threat to coastal areas and low‑lying island states posed by rising sea levels and ever more frequent storms and flooding.

I am certain that in some of your countries the increasing scarcity of water resources is already starting to make itself felt. How are your Governments responding? How is society responding? Where are new tensions emerging, and what form do they take? What institutions and instruments exist to deal with these new problems? What institutions and mechanisms still need to be established or strengthened? In what areas can new impetus for cross-border cooperation be discerned? What support could be provided by neighbouring countries, other states and regional or international organizations? We need to find answers to all of these questions, and fast.

The massive impact that food shortages and rising food prices can have on the stability of entire regions has also been dramatically illustrated in recent times. As climate change progresses, agricultural productivity in many regions will face even greater challenges. In this context, too, responses are needed to the questions I just raised. Here, too, an open dialogue is required. Germany’s commitment in this field must be viewed as an offer of partnership across national and regional borders, a partnership to join forces to tackle the upcoming problems, with all of us bringing to the table our individually acquired expertise and our different perspectives.

Because of the special challenges climate change presents to states with low-lying, often densely populated coastal areas and to numerous island states, I am particularly pleased to see senior representatives from countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives here today. Germany and other countries, such as our neighbours Poland and the Netherlands, also have to deal with the threat to our coasts. Here, too, similar questions have to be answered. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you here and now of the German Government’s solidarity. German diplomacy is on your side.

By discussing potential problems such as the ones I mentioned earlier, and working to improve early warning systems, we can help provide the United Nations and thus the Security Council, too, with better and more regular information on any emerging conflicts that have been exacerbated or even triggered by climate change. But we want to go a step further at this conference. We want to come up with answers to the following questions: How can foreign policy address these risks? How should we seek to reconcile interests at local, regional or even global level? What forms of cooperation could be made to bear fruit? Where do we have to come to new arrangements?

The Federal Foreign Office can contribute its own experience in various areas, such as water cooperation in Central Asia. However I have raised so many questions for further debate at this conference because first and foremost we want to hear from you today and tomorrow, about how you intend to cope with the impact of climate change in your countries and regions.

I would like to expressly urge us all to be energetic in our network-building with other experts and diplomats and to intensify cooperation in these areas of crucial importance for our future. I am confident that we can develop an effective brand of preventive climate diplomacy through close coordination in a spirit of trust and partnership.

To conclude, I would like to quote from Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s speech to the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, in which he reaffirmed that “Germany will continue to be in the vanguard in the fight against climate change. Just like disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, as well as the protection of human rights, the fight against climate change is an integral element of preventive diplomacy. It is part of a far-sighted peace policy.”

Let me thank you in advance for your contributions to this conference, and for your commitment to climate issues. I would also like to thank the Federal Foreign Office staff and the people at Adelphi Research, with whom we jointly prepared this conference.

I hope that you will gain useful insights here and will be able to turn them into effective policies. I wish you all a productive exchange of ideas and information.

Thank you.

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