Statement by Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo, Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security, 24 July 2020

Mr President,

We thank the Secretary-General as well as the briefers for their contribution on this matter.

South Africa’s strong commitment to a collective, multilateral response to the existential challenge of climate change remains unwavering and we are redoubling our efforts at Continental and national level to address the crisis, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr President,

South Africa recognises that extreme weather events, drought, water scarcity, food insecurity and desertification, which are thought to be exacerbated by climate change, have the potential to increase the risk of violent conflict, either within sovereign States or across State boundaries. In Africa, there is some evidence to suggest that this may be the case in parts of the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, as well as the Horn of Africa. In these specific instances, climate change is a threat, or risk multiplier, which escalate existing tensions and conflict by placing strain on already scarce resources.

Notwithstanding these instances, there is currently little scientific evidence to support more generalised conclusions of a direct causality between climate change and threats to international peace and security. South Africa therefore remains wary of introducing climate change into the Security Council as a thematic issue or adopting generic decisions in this forum. Instead, where climate change is thought to be a clear contributing factor to a threat to international peace and security, it is appropriate for the Security Council to comment on this issue, within the specific context of the countries which may be affected. Even in those circumstances, the contribution the Security Council can make is modest and unclear. We therefore welcome this opportunity to hear ideas from Council members on what that contribution could be.

It is important to emphasise that climate change is a sustainable developmental issue that needs to be addressed through full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with support to Member States from multilateral bodies dedicated to effectively supporting all three legs of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.

The key to addressing climate change is to secure international collaboration to take the necessary mitigation and adaptation measures and to ensure that all developing countries that require means of implementation support, or assistance in responding to loss and damage caused by climate change, receive such support. In so far as there are security implications to climate change, these are likewise best addressed through massively scaled-up, appropriate and accessible climate-adaptation and mitigation-related support to the affected countries.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC holds the primary mandate and capabilities to galvanise this type of action by the international community, particularly since the UNFCCC enjoys universal membership, operates by consensus and adheres to the Convention principles, including equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities.

To introduce climate change as a thematic issue on the agenda of the Security Council would, in our view, risk diffusing the importance of the UNFCCC and detract attention and resources from its essential work.

We also think that there are reasonable questions about when and on what scientific basis the Security Council would invoke climate change as a contributing factor to a specific conflict situation and where precisely the Security Council draws the line with respect to incorporating environmental issues in its agenda.

Certainly, climate change is but one of several serious environmental challenges with potential peace and security implications and we need to guard against mandate creep by the Council or the Council outpacing its own resources and capacities.

Mr President,

We do not wish to downplay specific climate-related security risks, which the Security Council has progressively acknowledged in various outcomes over the years and which have received enhanced analytical capacity in the UN system, most notably in the Climate Security Mechanism between DPPA, UNDP and UNEP.

Rather our message is that the international community needs to channel its resources effectively through the bodies in the United Nations system that are most fit for a particular purpose.

We nevertheless welcome the opportunity of this meeting to explore proposals to enhance the capacity of the Security Council to better respond, as appropriate, to climate-related security risks.

In conclusion Mr President, we would urge, as always, that these risks be considered in the context of close partnerships with regional organisations, including the African Union, and that we seek creative, cost-effective means of utilising existing resources and avoid generating new mechanisms that could entail significant costs and additional burdens to already strained operations.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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