How do you avoid that the urgent always takes priority over the important?
In the coming decades, we may see climate change destabilizing conflict regions, fueling new conflicts, and undermining progress on development. Climate change is thus increasingly a global threat to security. The Foreign Ministers of France and Germany co-hosted a high-level discussion on September 30 during the United Nations General Assembly on how foreign policy can address these risks. 30 Foreign Ministers and (Deputy) Prime-Ministers attended the event and debated the question “How do you avoid that the urgent always takes priority over the important?” in an era where acute crises absorb much of the attention and capacities of foreign policymakers.
This event was initiated by adelphi and the French and German Foreign Office and moderated by adelphi’s executive director Alexander Carius. He introduced the study “A New Climate for Peace”, commissioned by the G7 Foreign Ministers, and elaborated on the need for concrete action towards a global agenda for resilience and peace.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier highlighted that the impacts of climate change go beyond those countries most affected and have become a universal challenge for global affairs. He pointed out that today the interlinkages between climate and security risks are better understood, and foreign policy has recognized its role in complementing climate and development policy through diplomacy. The increased attention by the foreign policy community is an opportunity to help increase awareness for the security implications of climate change and embark on concrete action towards resilience and peace, by using the full spectrum of the diplomacy toolbox.
Francine Baron, Foreign Minister of Dominica, and Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, emphasized that climate change already causes devastating impacts in their respective countries. Both called for an effective loss and damage regime to help countries recover from the devastating effects of extreme weather events. Minister Mahmood Ali also stressed the importance of technology transfer. Minister Baron called for increased development assistance to help Small Island Developing States become less dependent on fossil fuels, as well as an effective and flexible financing mechanism accessible on short notice when extreme events hit economies and societies.
In a statement delivered by Janos Pasztor, the United Nations Secretary-General for Climate Change, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized that the numerous recent extreme weather events and the current migration crisis in Europe provide an idea of the magnitude of the challenges that will have to be met in the future. Failure to achieve a robust global agreement in Paris would be a threat to peace and security, and would also threaten the achievement of the SDGs and decades of development efforts.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed the need for long-term approaches when addressing systemic climate and security risks. Reaching agreement at UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris will be an important starting point.
Short statements complemented the panel discussion. Tonga’s Prime-Minister Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva emphasized that the Security Council should increase its attention for climate and security issues, and suggested that the Security Council could request the appointment of a special representative on climate change and security. Ignacio Ybáñez, Vice-Foreign Minister of Spain, announced that his government wants to bring the issue of climate risks again to the attention of the UN Security Council in 2016. Manuel Gonzalez Sanz, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica and Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, both emphasized the need for an ambitious, binding agreement in Paris. Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Foreign Minister of Georgia, elaborated on the geopolitics of climate change and argued for assistance for countries most affected by the impacts of climate change.
The rich and intense debate among high-level foreign policymakers demonstrated the general political consensus reached on climate and security risks. In light of the upcoming climate summit, the security argument was used to raise the level of ambition and stress the need for a substantial climate agenda to be agreed upon in Paris in December. Participants agreed to continue this debate both within the G7 and at UN level. The diplomatic toolbox is yet to be explored and developed into a broader agenda for climate resilience and peace.