Climate, peace and security: the time for action

Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the high-level event “Climate, peace and security: the time for action”


“I think it is really important that we meet today in this format, in these times which are definitely times of confusion, of chaotic change for the world. And it has become very difficult to have a conversation on our common good – focusing on how to build win-win solutions, and on what kind of world we live in and what kind of world we leave to our children.

I have personally the feeling that the focus is more and more about on the next electoral campaign, more than on the next generation. And the public discourse, the political focus is more and more about national interest, national security, national policies.

And the conversation on climate change – which is global by definition – suffered very much – I think – from this attitude.

The message we send today – I believe – is that climate change is not just about the future, it is about today. And it is not just about the health of our environment, it is also about security. And national security can be addressed through global action only.

Climate change is happening now, and climate change – the global phenomenon – has already become a matter of national interest and national security without us probably realising so well. Us around this table for sure yes, but us in terms of public opinion maybe not so much.

This is not only true for our friends living on small islands – and I take this opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister of Fiji [Frank Bainimarama] and the Minister of Environment of The Marshall Islands [David Paul].

Extreme weather events have become much more common all around the world, and we all experienced some of these in our lives.

Other natural disasters take months or years to happen. Think of desertification, and how it is changing the social and security environment of entire countries.

If you think of most of the unstable regions in our world, they are suffering from the so-called “slow onset” natural disasters. And this is happening right at our doorstep, including not far from Europe.

If you think of the Middle East, water scarcity is fostering tensions and adding up to long-standing conflicts. We see it in Gaza and in the Jordan valley. We have seen it in Iraq, where actually controlling water has become even more strategic than controlling oil.

In the Horn of Africa, the recent floods have displaced hundreds of thousands. Last year, natural disasters have displaced almost 19 million people all around the world, and for the second year in a row, climate impacts have displaced more people than war. I think this is an untold story which must be heard and on which we must act.

In the Sahel – as mentioned – thousands of jobs are being lost because traditional farming is not sustainable any more. And when people lose their jobs, they can be more easily recruited by all sorts of militias, criminal organisations or terrorist groups. This was also mentioned during the 4th ministerial meeting I convened this week with the G5 Sahel Foreign Ministers, and we are also very much working on that with them.

Climate change is already now having an impact on our national security and our national interests.

The World Economic Forum tells us that four of the top five global risks are connected to climate change. The only comparable risk comes from weapons of mass destruction.

Here in Europe, experience tells us that peace and security are not only about peace treaties or defence budgets. Peace has to be sustainable in time as security has to be sustainable in time. And sustainable peace requires good jobs, decent access to natural resources, and sustainable development. Sustainable peace, sustainable security need climate action and I think this is the message today. This is also what we all agreed, globally, when we launched the Sustainable Development Goals.

So, let us keep this in mind: when we invest in the fight against climate change, we invest in our own security. It is not good feelings and charity. This is security-related, hard-core security.

The good news is: this is not irreversible. Climate change is man-made, and solutions are also man-made. Let me just focus on three ideas on what we can do together about climate and security.

First of all, we must treat the symptoms of climate change.

Just a few days ago, the Foreign Minister of Niger [Kalla Ankourao] was telling me about a project bringing electricity to a remote part of his country. And thanks to electricity, the local people have begun to produce ice-cream – nothing big but something revolutionary – selling that not only to the local community but to their neighbouring countries and to Nigeria in particular. The local communities – not big businesses – secured a decent living, changed the lives of the community and took away large parts of the population to the risk of being exposed to criminal activities or security-related activities.

But beyond ice-cream, still life is made of these little things, together with the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations] and the United Nations, we are working on a Great Green Wall around the Sahara. We are helping local communities in their fight against the desert, bringing water and feeding the land so the land can be fertile again.

Together we can do what human beings have always done through the history: we have always adapted to new challenges, and found new and better solutions.

Second, as we treat the symptoms of climate change, we must also treat the causes.

The Paris Agreement is – and we believe – must remain our first line of defence, and the indispensable foundation for reaching climate neutrality in the second half of this century.

But for us Europeans the goal is even more ambitious. This week my colleague Miguel Arias Cañete announced that we will aim at cutting our emissions by 45% by 2030, instead of the 40% we have pledged before.

We are setting the bar even higher because we know we have the responsibility as Europeans to lead by example in a world that needs actors and players in the world that can do that and that have the intention to do that. I would like here to thank my good friend the Foreign Minister of India for sharing this ambitious global player role in showing the way and showing leadership in a world that desperately needs that.

Again, this is not something we do out of good intention and nice feelings, this is not charity. This is out of our own self-interest.

We are all together in this. If one of us pollutes too much, we are all worse off, and if one of us leads by example, everyone else is better off. And hopefully, others will decide to lead by example. We also want to encourage positive change.

Third, climate change has an impact on everyone’s security, and international cooperation is the only possible way to address such common challenges. This is the third element I believe we can do together: working together on the security aspect of the climate change.

We are trying to show this in our reaction as European Union for instance to extreme weather events – for instance, after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and the United States. Thanks to our Copernicus satellite systems, we provided our partners both in the Caribbean and in the United States with the most accurate satellite images of the damage. It took us just a few hours, and we did it for free, because we know this is an investment in the common good. We need to do it and this is the right thing to do.

Our approach will always be cooperative. But we also know climate change requires solutions that engage all of us. Climate action is perhaps the most indisputable case for multilateralism. You cannot do it alone, there is no way you can do it alone, it is not an option.

We will need everyone’s contribution, from the UN and regional organisations to states and cities and citizens; from global opinion makers to community leaders. It is about collective targets that cannot be but collective and about individual choices.

This is why I have made climate diplomacy an essential part of our foreign policy. At the beginning it was not self-evident but I think it was the right thing to do.

Our delegations around the world, the European Union embassies around the world were also directly involved in building the Global Consensus that then lead to the Paris Agreement.

We have pushed this forward, we are there to work fully on keeping the global community committed to the implementation.

This is why I am glad that so many of you have joined this meeting today, whether from big organisations or small countries, today we all are global players with a global responsibility.

And we all share an interest and a responsibility to find new solutions, and continue to set the bar a little higher and to reach the objectives we set for ourselves. It is for our children, but I would say it is also for ourselves today, it is for every one of us. It is about national security, it is about our common world, which is a troubled world, but it is the only one we have”.


Angelo Cera

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