Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations during the UN Security Council Open Debate on addressing the Impacts of Climate-related disasters on International Peace and Security

25 January 2019


Mr President,


We are honoured to have you preside over today’s open debate, and thank the Dominican Republic for arranging this important meeting as well as chairing the Security Council this month, at the beginning of 2019.


We are also honoured by, and acknowledge, the presence of His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khaled Alhamad Alsabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait; His Excellency Mr Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence of Belgium; Her Excellency Ms Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia; His Excellency Mr Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany; Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, United Kingdom FCO Minister of State for the Commonwealth; and His Excellency Mr Michał Kurtyka, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment of Poland.


We further would like to thank today’s briefers, Ms Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Mr Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist, World Meteorological Organization and Ms Lindsay Getschel, Research Assistant, Environmental Security Program, The Stimson Center.


We also associate ourselves with the statement that will be delivered later by Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed, on behalf of the African Union.


Mr President,


South Africa fully shares the views expressed by the Secretary-General at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Katowice Climate Change Conference in December 2018, when he said: “Climate change is the single most important issue we face. It affects all our plans for sustainable development and a safe, secure and prosperous world”.


The Secretary-General has issued a warning, that time is running out to address climate change and this is premised on the clear findings of the international scientific community, as well as by the new reality of increasingly frequent and extreme climate-related disasters. The Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise confirms that we are already seeing the consequences of climate change for people, nature and livelihoods, and that the worst is yet to come.


Mr President,


We note with great concern the erratic nature and veracity of natural calamities that have visited the Caribbean – hurricanes, Indonesia – repeated Tsunamis, Australia and the USA – devastating wildfires, Europe – floods and heavy snows and drought, amongst others, in Africa. These natural catastrophes caused untold human suffering, destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people and displaced hundreds of millions more.


Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as the single greatest threat to its development and prosperity.  In South Africa we have experienced devastating weather events in recent years, with several regions of our country suffering their worst drought in decades. Africa therefore stands in full solidarity with other regions similarly affected by natural disasters, such as those highlighted in the concept note prepared by the Dominican Republic. We remain firmly committed to addressing climate change and responding to natural disasters at a national, regional and international level.


Mr President,


It is clear to us that climate change is a global sustainable development challenge that can only realistically be addressed if we do so collectively, and through a rules-based multilateral regime that is based on science, equity as well as differentiation of action and support between countries with very different national circumstances. Climate action needs to be dramatically scaled up, while protecting and furthering the development gains of developing countries and eradicating poverty.


We have strong foundations for this multilateral solution already in the form of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, reinforced by regional development programmes, such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063. We look to the UNFCCC, its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement for policy direction and leadership on climate change and also refer to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.


Mr President,


In those security situations that are the purview of the Security Council where climate change is thought to be a significant contributing factor to insecurity, such as the Sahel and Somalia, it is important that the Council highlight climate change as a factor that must be addressed by the international community. By adding its voice to the conversation, the Security Council will increase awareness of the problem, which will hopefully in turn help mobilise global climate action and the provision of means of implementation and support to developing countries. The Council may also help with the preparation of context-specific risk mitigation strategies that address all factors leading to insecurity.


However, as the IPCC and other evidence-based studies have shown, it is often difficult to determine a direct causal nexus between climate change and natural disasters, on the one hand, and threats to international peace and security, on the other. In specific circumstances, they may be an exacerbating factor, or threat multiplier, to more direct and specific root causes of conflict. This reality has been recognised in Africa, where the African Union Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns by 2020 identifies a number of key areas as constituting serious threats to the African peace and security agenda, including potentially climate change.


Mr President,


The true nature of the threat posed by climate change is existential and global in nature. We therefore need a multilateral response that gives a voice to the widest possible representation of States and with a strong role for all other stakeholders. As the Secretary-General has often said, the solution lies in a transformation of the global economy and this “requires inclusivity, because everyone is affected by climate change”.


In this regard, we should be aware that the Security Council’s limited membership and specific peace and security focus means that it may not be the appropriate forum for addressing the issue of climate change. Consequently, we should be cautious to duplicate efforts of other bodies in the UN system that are better placed to address this matter.


In the spirit of constructive cooperation, which will underpin South Africa’s term on the Security Council, we remain open to further discussion on this issue.


I thank you.




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