Statement by Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas at the open debate of the UN Security Council addressing the Impacts of Climate-related Disasters on International Peace and Security

25.01.2019 - Speech

Conflicts are part and parcel of the Security Council’s day-to-day business. But we don’t often have an opportunity to take a step back and consider the causes of these conflicts.

I would therefore like to thank you, Mister President, for inviting us to do this today.

And I would like to tell you about someone who didn’t just take one step back, but around 570,000 steps. It was from up there, from the International Space Station, that the German astronaut Alexander Gerst gazed down on our planet for six months last year.

The images that he beamed back to Earth shocked many people in Europe. The driest summer since records began had clearly left its mark. It was even visible from space. What was usually a green continent at that time of year resembled a yellow-brown steppe. I have brought a number of these pictures with me today.

The consequences of this drought are:

  • crop losses running into the billions,
  • catastrophic forest fires, even in northern Europe.
  • and, in some regions of Germany, fuel started to become scarce as the water level in rivers was too low for tanker ships.

I know that all of this sounds harmless compared with the disasters caused by climate-related extreme weather in other parts of the world.

In the Sahel, there are increasing numbers of conflicts because of a lack of water and land for farming.

As Lake Chad shrinks, the livelihoods of entire population groups are disappearing – the perfect breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.

In Iraq, water scarcity is undermining prospects for lasting peace. In Afghanistan and Yemen, water tables have fallen dramatically.

We still remember the forest fires that raged in California.

And rising sea levels and hurricanes threaten the very existence of a number of island states – including in your region, Mr. President.

Climate change is real.

It is having a global impact.

And it is increasingly becoming a threat to international peace and security.

This is why the debate about the policy consequences of climate change belongs here – in the Security Council.

It must become routine for us to take the link between climate and security into account in all conflict situations.

We should focus on three aspects:

First, all UN member states need access to reliable and comprehensive information. This is why systematic reporting by the Secretary-General on the security-related impacts of climate change is so important.

Second, the Security Council needs sound risk analyses and forecasts with clear recommendations for action. Our Swedish friends have strengthened the capacities of the UN system to this end. We want to continue along this path.

And third, we must work even harder to translate our knowledge about climate change into tangible policy – in the mandates of UN missions, and, above all, in the concrete work of the United Nations in the field. The United Nations’ ability to analyse the situation on the ground must be strengthened. Our partners, especially regional organisations, need early warning capacities. And we must support those regions that are most affected by climate change through quick impact Projects.

These are key priorities for Germany as a member of the Security Council.

And I’m glad that we’re not alone here. Last year, we established a Group of Friends on Climate and Security together with Nauru and partners from around the world. This group is supported by a broad international network of experts. Together, we will table proposals for the Security Council on how we can improve our response.

We want to deepen our discussion about this issue at a high-level Conference on Climate and Security in Berlin on June 4th. Allow me to invite you to join us at this conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One hundred and twenty-five years after Fridtjof Nansen’s polar expedition, a new mission to the Arctic is to be launched in September. For one year, the German research vessel Polarstern will travel through the polar sea, frozen in ice, for 150 days in the polar night. Some 600 scientists from 17 countries will be on board, including women and men from Belgium, China, France, Poland, Russia, the US and the UK. They are all united by a common goal, namely to warn humanity about the worst consequences of climate change.

Climate change is real. It is having a global impact. And this is why it should not only bring together scientists on board of a ship, but also us here in the Security Council.

The Arctic is an early warning system for climate change. The Security Council must become an early warning system for international policy. This is our shared responsibility.

Thank you very much.


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