Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Session on the Impact of Climate Change on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
July 20, 2011


Thank you very much, Mr. President, and I want to thank the Secretary-General and Executive Director Steiner for their excellent and very important statements this morning.

The United States welcomes today’s debate and we are grateful to Germany for its leadership in convening this critical and timely discussion, which aims to place climate change squarely on the global security agenda.

President Obama was clear at the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Summit nearly two years ago when he said the security and stability of every nation and every people are in jeopardy. Our prosperity, health, and safety are in peril. Time is not just moving ahead. Time is running out.

Climate change has very real implications for peace and security. They are as powerful as they are complex, and many of them are already upon us. In many regions, climate change is already reducing the availability of food and water, threatening biodiversity, and disrupting sea levels and weather patterns. As more powerful and frequent storms and floods lash coastlines and uproot populations, climatic changes can put even more pressure on scarce resources and expose vulnerable communities to greater instability.

As too often happens, the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit. Post-conflict countries already struggle to rebuild their infrastructure, strengthen their institutions, and overcome instability.

Now they must often grapple with extreme weather and protracted drought, which can drive already strained systems to buckle. Climate change can also slow or even reverse crucial development gains for ordinary citizens trying to break free of the shackles of poverty. Climate change can further erode state capacity, especially in fragile states already vulnerable from past conflict, poverty, upheaval, or disaster.

And as sea levels rise, small island states may well see their territory quite literally drowned, raising the specter of new and previously unimagined forms of statelessness.

We have just witnessed the birth of the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan, where South Sudanese leaders now tell us that agricultural production is one of their highest priorities as they work to consolidate peace. Yet that challenge is magnified by the unfolding humanitarian disaster caused by severe drought in the wider Horn of Africa.

Let us remember that in Sudan, a decade ago, drought and rapid desertification are widely thought to have contributed to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur—as they did a decade earlier in Somalia, where drought contributed to the crisis that eventually prompted the deployment of UN forces, with results we all recall.

To be sure, the mechanisms are complex, and some of climate change’s effects are long term. But the Security Council needs to start now—today and in the days to come— to act on the understanding that climate change exacerbates the risks and dynamics of conflict, and we need to sharpen and adapt our instruments to prevent and respond to such conflicts.

The United States is taking important steps itself through a range of initiatives to work with our partners to confront the growing challenges of global poverty, food insecurity, disease, water scarcity, and depleted natural resources, helping lay the foundation for a more peaceful and prosperous future for all.

Mr. President, let me now address the role of the Security Council in this issue. While we recognize the essential work of the wider UN system and other partners in tackling the broader dimensions of climate change around the world, we also believe strongly that this Council has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate.

In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS.

Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does.

We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.

Mr. President, this Council needs to keep pace with the emerging threats of the 21st century. Old threats have not disappeared, but new threats are upon us, and they demand more of us than business as usual. This Council has shown an impressive ability in the past to embrace its responsibilities to combat new peace and security threats, as it has done over the last twenty years in adapting traditional peacekeeping tools to address new and more complex political and security crises around the world. Climate change is no different and demands nothing less.

We need improved early warning systems to increase our lead time to take action. We need greater collaboration on the effects of climate change, especially at the local and regional levels, and better information about basic human needs—water, food, livelihood, and energy—so that we can anticipate and prevent resource-driven conflicts.

We also need to become better equipped to anticipate and prevent conflict risks, including by building local and national capacities to respond to climate-related threats, and to prevent them through diplomacy that helps governments manage potential disputes over scarce resources.

Mr. President, our goal is clear: this Council needs to be prepared for the full range of crises that may be deepened or widened by effects of climate change. The question is not whether we will be faced with climate-related threats but when, and how we respond. We need to be much better prepared to tackle one of the central threats of our age. It is past time for the Security Council to come into the 21st century and assume our core responsibilities.

Thank you, Mr. President.


PRN: 2011/144