Statement by HE Ambassador J M Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, Open Video Teleconference (VTC) Meeting of the United Nations Security Council titled, “Humanitarian Effects of Environmental Degradation and Peace and Security”, New York, 17 September 2020

Mr President,
Your Excellency, Mr António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD),
Mr Peter Maurer: President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
Ms Inna Modja, Earth Ambassador,

Mr President,

Allow me to first congratulate Niger on its Presidency of the Security Council for the month of September 2020 and for convening this meeting to highlight the potential impact of environmental degradation on peace and security situations. There is certainly a need to better understand the impact of effective environmental governance and policy and whether this may influence the reduction of conflict and help bring about peace and security.

South Africa recognises that climate change represents an existential threat to humanity and all other species. In fact, all forms of environmental degradation require our urgent attention and a progressive, ambitious and collective multilateral response from all Member States. Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action, together with the other sixteen Sustainable Development Goals, remains critical to the effective pursuit by all of humanity of the basic tenets of the 2030 Agenda: namely, the alleviation of poverty, by leaving no one behind on the path to Sustainable Development and by assisting those furthest behind first.

We also recognise that factors such as drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, and desertification, which are thought to be caused or exacerbated by climate change, increase the risk of violent conflicts. In Africa, there is evidence to suggest that this is the case in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, as well as the Horn of Africa. In these instances, as with elsewhere, climatic pressures associated with climate change are threats or risk multipliers which escalate tensions and conflict, by placing additional/further strain on scarce resources.

Mr President,

There are different aspects to the challenge of environmental degradation; the first is to address the root developmental issues that spark this initial conflict. The second aspect is to deal with the consequences of the outbreak of conflict, thought to be linked to climate change or environmental degradation once it has taken place and, in this regard, the Security Council’s experience in dealing with conflict may be useful. It is clear that a holistic approach is needed to deal with the ramifications of environmental degradation on peace and security.

In this regard, we encourage the Security Council to support the lead UN organisations and processes such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements; as well as the work of relevant regional organisations, such as the African Union. These collaborations will ensure that the Security Council may obtain information on the potential impact of climate or environmental-related security risks in conflict settings.

Mr President,

The UNFCCC, enjoys near universal membership amongst Member States, adheres to principles that seek to promote equity and recognises the need for common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, as well as the Convention´s legal obligation on developed countries to provide means of implementation support to all developing countries. The UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, we believe, will also promote continued, multilateral negotiation of the sensitive changes that all Member States need to adopt to address climate change, whilst also providing mechanisms to safeguard the development policy-space of all countries – especially developing countries.

South Africa fully supports a multilateral approach to climate change, premised on the guiding principles of the UNFCCC, which include equity, differentiation of actions required between developed and developing countries and the provision of support to all developing countries that require it. At a national level we are prioritising the Just Transition towards more equitable and sustainable patterns of production and consumption. At a Continental level, the African Union is developing the African Green Stimulus Programme as a contribution to the overall AU recovery effort from the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing all three pillars of sustainable development.

We continue to look to the Security Council to fulfill its international peace and security mandate. In this regard, we are interested to hear the views of Council Members on what value the Security Council might add to addressing the humanitarian effects of environmental degradation on Peace and Security.

Thank you.


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