Sustainable Development Is Element of Enlightened Security Policy in Today’s World, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Ministerial Event on Climate Change

28 September 2012

Sustainable Development Is Element of Enlightened Security Policy in Today’s World, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Ministerial Event on Climate Change

28 September 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sustainable Development Is Element of Enlightened Security Policy in Today’s

World, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Ministerial Event on Climate Change

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’sremarks to the ministerial side event on Climate Change and Its Impact on Foreign and Security Policy, in New York, 28 September:

I thank the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Morocco for organizing today’s event.  I am pleased to represent the Secretary-General this afternoon.  Climate change has been a top priority of his since he took office.

Allow me to take you on a helicopter ride — a journey I made four years ago.  We’ll start in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.  We fly over thousands of blue and white tents — home to more than 150,000 refugees.  After that:  burnt villages; sparse grassland; then desert — advancing at about 10 kilometers every third year.

The cause of the conflict in Darfur was, and remains, complex — but at one level it is about competition over resources in the face of environmental decline, exacerbated by climate change.

Flying west, over the Sahel, we see even more effects of drought and a changing climate.  Alternating extreme drought and flood have affected agricultural yields, grazing grounds and water resources, and contributed to a rise in tensions among the communities.  Remember, scarce resources can either lead to more cooperation or to conflict.

What happens when the land can no longer support you?  Perhaps you move to the city — adding to the burden of overcrowding in an urban slum.  Soon, 60 per cent of humanity will live in urban areas.  Or you climb into an overloaded boat to risk your life for a better future in Europe — where some political groups are making political points of not welcoming you.  Or perhaps you join a rebel group driven by mercenary greed or extremist zeal.

Let us now head across the Atlantic, to the midwest of the United States.  Dry and withered corn stalks tell the story of drought — the story repeated from Brazil to Kazakhstan; from Ukraine to India.  Failed crops mean inflated global food prices, hunger for the poor and the risk of the kind social unrest we saw in 2008.

Now let us head north, to the Arctic, where the ice is now so thin that some scientists are concerned the North Pole may soon be ice-free during the summer.  The effect on already changing weather patterns could be catastrophic.  Melting glaciers from Greenland to the Antarctic are adding to sea level rise that threatens low-lying islands and cities around the world.

We have built our progress on oil and coal.  But is it a house built on sand?  Climate evidence suggests so.  So does the fragility of the global economy.  When oil prices rise, stock markets may panic and economies go into disarray.  This is why energy security is a recurring theme of foreign and domestic policy.  Easily extracted oil is harder to find by the years.  New technologies are liberating vast new sources — but at what cost to the planet?

We need to redefine our concept of energy security.  It cannot be about how much oil we drill or control, or how much coal we can mine.  We usually say there is always a “Plan B”, but there is no “Planet B”.

There is enough human-introduced carbon in the atmosphere to drive climate change for decades to come.  We have to mitigate our emissions and we have to adapt.  And we have to act now to stop things getting worse.

The only viable answer to energy security, food security and water security and long-term geo-political security is a sustainable, low-emissions economy — the economy of the twenty-first century.  That is why the sustainable development goals are so important.  This is an imperative, but it is also an opportunity — to drive economic dynamism and reduce poverty as well as address the causes of climate change — a win-win-win.

The foundation for this triple-win must be a comprehensive legally binding climate change agreement by 2015.  And we need more public and private investment in clean technologies, and new partnerships to build on transformative initiatives like Sustainable Energy for All. 

This is the route to addressing climate change and building resilience.  Both are critical for sustainable development — and sustainable development is critical for peace and stability.  Sustainable development is an element of enlightened security policy in today’s world.

I thank you for participating in this event.  Your engagement is essential for creating the future we want.  I wish you a fruitful discussion.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.