Statement by High Representative to Conference on Climate Change and Human Security in Athens, Greece, 30 May 2008:
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to address this timely conference on climate change and human security. Since early last year when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its authoritative report on the consequences of global warming, substantial international attention has been accorded to this global challenge. It is important that while the international community seeks solutions to the challenges posed by climate change, the focus is put on the security of people, especially the most vulnerable groups in the most vulnerable countries. If we needed any reminder on the threats to human security posed by climate change, the current food crisis provides it. Countries as far-flung as Burkina Faso and Cambodia, Mauritania and Mozambique, Senegal and Yemen, have been rocked by food riots, in some cases leading to loss of lives and, in the case of Haiti, the fall of government. While the causes of the food crisis remain a subject of intense debate, the ripples it has sent across the world are an unwelcome indication of the adverse situations that could be facing us as a result of climate change, one of whose major consequences will be the diminished ability of people, especially those in the poor countries, to feed themselves. The crisis has also shown how global problems pose a greater danger to the poorer countries.
The initiative of the Greek government to use its chairmanship of the Human Security Network to draw attention to the disproportionate threats posed by climate change to the human security of the most vulnerable groups in the weakest countries is highly commendable. When disaster strikes, it is the poorest who suffer the most because they lack the means to take pre-emptive action, deal with the aftermath or adapt to the threats facing them. It is the moral imperative of international cooperation that it prioritizes those most in need.
Not surprisingly, the Least Developed Countries, recognized as “the poorest and weakest segment of the international community”, along with the Small Island Developing States and Africa, are the most threatened by climate change. In its report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted the main river deltas of Asia and Africa as the regions facing the greatest risk from sea-level rise, while Africa was singled out as the most vulnerable to climate variability. These regions virtually cover all the 49 Least Developed Countries and many of the small islands.
For the Least Developed Countries in Africa and Asia, climate change will result in flooding of low-lying coastal areas, increased water scarcity, decline in agricultural yields and fisheries resources, and loss of biological resources. Projected sea-level rise will greatly affect coastal and low-lying areas with large populations in parts of Gambia, Senegal and Tanzania in Africa and Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia in Asia. A higher sea-level will worsen the flooding of large rivers such as the Niger with adverse consequences for Mali and Niger. The melting of snow, coupled with the intensification of the monsoon would cause flood disasters in the Himalayan catchments, affecting countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. Sea level-rise and increases in water temperature will also devastate mangroves and coral reefs as well as fisheries on which millions of poor people derive their livelihoods, directly and indirectly.
In Africa, where 33 of the 49 Least Developed Countries are found, climate change will worsen the already serious shortage of water. Climate variability will severely affect agricultural production on which the overwhelming majority of the population depends for its livelihood. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that yields from rain-fed agriculture in Africa could be reduced by as much as 50 percent by 2020. Water shortages and the shrinking of land suitable for agriculture would cause other social and political disruptions, including forced migration and conflict. Given their high dependence on agriculture and natural resources, many people, especially the poorest and women, will be deprived of a livelihood.
Small islands are in a similar predicament. Because of the size and location, they are especially vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Almost every year, such disasters result in loss of human lives, serious damage to property and to infrastructure. They will only get worse with climate change. In this regard, I wish to reaffirm the commitment of my Office to assisting the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS through advocacy and mobilization of international support. In this context I would like to commend the Maldives government on its invaluable work done by convening last November the Small Island Conference on “The Human Dimension of Global Climate Change”, which afforded Members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) the opportunity to share experiences on and insights into the Bali Process and prepare a common vision for addressing global climate change issues, as subject particularly pertinent to island states.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the cost of adaptation to these environmental changes could amount to 5-10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of these countries. Clearly, the amount of resources needed to adapt to climate change in these countries is out of their means. International support, not only in terms of financial resources, but also strengthening their technical and institutional capacities to adapt, is therefore critical for ensuring human security from the threats posed by climate change in these countries. Sharing experiences and cooperative action at the regional level and in the context of south-south cooperation are equally important. But these actions at the international level will only have the desired effect on enhancing human security if they are combined with good and accountable policies at the national level. In this context, good governance, especially economic and political empowerment of the most vulnerable sections of the society, is very important. Ultimately, economic and political empowerment of the most vulnerable is the surest means to enhancing their human security.
Thank you for your attention.