Speech by Ambassador Wittig on Climate Disruption and Security

Jan 19, 2012

(Speech delivered by Ambassador Wittig at the 12th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: “Environment and Security”, Washington - check against delivery)


Ladies and gentlemen,

In October 2010 Germanyhas been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2011/2012. As one area of our work – so far not a classical topic for the Security Council – we decided to choose the security implications of climate change and organized an open debate in the Council on this issue during our presidency of the Council in July 2011.

Why did we do that ? Which obstacles did we face ? How did the debate evolve and – most importantly - what did we achieve ?

First: Why did we do that ? Germanyis convinced that the Security Council´s mandate goes beyond the day-to-day management of acute crises. At a time where preventive diplomacy becomes more and more important, the Council has to take into account roots and causes of conflict. We are convinced, that the Security Council as the body which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security has an essential responsibility to address the implications of a changing climate on international peace and security.

Let me give you two examples we selected for discussion in the Council. First example: Sea-level rise. Sea level rise raises important questions not only regarding the existence of UN member states. Receding coastlines could cause disputes over maritime territories and access to exclusive economic zones. Current legal and political arrangements as well as the preparedness of the UN system to deal with these situations may prove insufficient to handle them, making climate-induced territorial changes a threat to international peace and security.

Second example: Food security. Climate change is also likely to put pressure on food production globally, with large parts of Africa and Asia suffering particular negative impacts. Climate change-induced food insecurity makes countries more fragile and vulnerable to conflict risks, and may create a threat to international peace and security.

Second: Which obstacles were we facing ? When we decided to organize the debate, we were aware of the opposition by some members of the Council and in the wider UN membership: In the first debate on the issue under British presidency in April 2007 it was neither possible to agree on discussing the topic under the appropriate agenda item, namely “maintenance of international peace and security”, nor to reach consensus in the Council on a negotiated outcome document. Some members denied any mandate for the Council to discuss the issue, as climate change would not pose a direct threat to international peace and security, others were afraid of what they call “encroachment”, meaning an interference into the mandate of the GA and the UNFCCC.

But we also sensed that the discussion on the issue has evolved significantly over the last few years and the awareness for the potential security implications of climate change has increased: Scientific knowledge on Climate Change evolved since 2007. The General Assembly invited in a resolution in June 2009 all relevant organs of the UN to intensify their consideration of the topic, and the Secretary-General in September 2009 reported to the General Assembly on the possible security implications of Climate Change. The Pacific Small Island Developing States – a group of countries most affected by sea level rise - in 2010 explicitly requested the Security Council to place the security implications of climate change on the Council´s agenda.

That set the stage for our event. We received a lot of support for our idea, from many countries in- and outside the Council. Ambassador Susan Rice was very supportive. She not only encouraged me to “aim high”, but also contributed significantly to overcome the opposition of those who still strongly opposed any written outcome. I am very grateful to her for her valuable support in this matter.

Third: What did we achieve ? In the debate on July 20, which was opened by the Secretary General, a very strong supporter of the idea, 62 member states of the UN participated – an extraordinarily high number. Almost all speakers unanimously recognized that climate change is one of the key challenges of our times, and reiterated their commitment to contribute to effective mitigation and adaptation measures to fight climate change. As to the mandate of the Security Council to deal with Climate Change, views – as in 2007 - were split: All developed countries, but also countries from Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Island States shared our view that the Security Council must take up the issue. Representatives from the Non-Aligned Movement emphasized that the UNFCCC is the only legitimate forum to discuss the consequences of climate change in a comprehensive manner, and questioned the mandate of the Council.

But even more important was the following: For the first time ever, the Council agreed – after long and difficult negotiations - on a Presidential Statement, a negotiated outcome document, that was agreed between all 15 members of the Council. In this statement, the Council expressed its concern, that the possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security – in other words: the Security Council recognized, that climate change has the potential to negatively affect or threaten international peace and security. I dare to say: This was a real historic achievement of our efforts.

And the statement asked the Secretary General to include in his future reporting to the Council contextual information on the possible security implications of climate change. This will ensure, that the security implications of Climate Change will remain on the agenda of the Council.

To conclude, let me underline, that by agreeing on this PRST the Council recognized, that its mandate is not restricted to dealing with the classical threats to international peace and security, but that it also has to keep pace with the emerging threats of the 21st century. And climate change is definitely one of the biggest, if not the biggest new emerging threat. For Germany, this outcome of our Presidency of the Security Council in July 2011 serves as a strong incentive for our future commitment to climate security at the United Nations and beyond.

Thank you.

© GermanyUN

Environment and Climate Change


Many environmental problems cross national borders and can only be overcome through international cooperation. International climate- and environmental policy encompasses a multitude of topics:

Peace and Security

Regional conflicts, fragile or collapsed states, armed conflicts, terrorism and organized crime – all have grave consequences for the people who suffer under them. They also threaten the security and stability of entire regions and peoples.