Speech at seminar on climate change and security

8 December 2017

Check against delivery

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to global security. Climate change knows no borders and it presents an existential challenge to us all.

An important security effect of climate change is an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events – floods and storms principally. This affects the infrastructures of towns and cities, access to drinking water and other resources to support daily life. It also drives the displacement of populations and since 2008, an average of 26,4 million people per year have been displaced from their homes by disasters brought on by natural hazards. 85 % of those weather related. This is equivalent to approximately one person displaced every second.

That is why it is so important that we met here today and speak on this crucial topic.

I will speak to you why we see climate change as a matter of international peace and security, and as such why we believe this should be on the table of the security council. Let me also take this opportunity to thank Stockholm Resilience Centre and SIPRI for co-organizing this seminar.

The scale of the climate challenges we face today and in the future is by now evident. The adverse effects of climate change have the potential to undermine the development gains of the last many decades, and they threaten the prospects for achieving Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals.

Talking about the development goals quickly turns into long term challenges. But this is no future development, it is a reality of the present. It is livelihoods and food security being threatened due to changing weather patterns, making people more vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups. It is a young girl now forced to walk even further to collect water for her family, missing school and being more exposed to sexual violence.. It is crop being lost and famine spreading, resulting in forced migration that causes human suffering and increased tension between people. It is changing water flows in some of the largest rivers, affecting the water supply for millions of people and increasing competition over already scarce resources.

As such, deteriorating climate conditions is a definite threat to international peace and security. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Security Council first ministerial debate on climate-related security issues. Today, this agenda is more urgent than ever.

In 2017 we have continued to witness undeniable examples of climate-related security risks. Recurring drought in the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad region and in Yemen is contributing to insecurity and conflict. The conflicts and the droughts amplify one another, and have resulted in famines at a scale not seen in many years. Rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of people and countries, not least the Pacific Island States.


The relationship between climate change and security is complex. Melting glaciers, floods in coastal areas, hurricanes, drought and desertification as a consequence of climate change, is increasingly affecting all of us, and can trigger unrest or exacerbate already existing social tensions. Climate related resource scarcity, such as lack of water or food, combined with inequality and shifting demographics also provide fertile grounds for conflict. The countries most affected are those already vulnerable, already ridden by conflict and severe poverty, where governance is weak and institutional capacity to deal with shocks and crisis is low.

Let me in this context also emphasize the critical importance of applying a gender perspective. Women are often among those hardest hit but also critical agents of positive change.

One thing is clear: in order for the international community to make informed decisions when it comes to preventing conflict and sustaining peace, we need better understanding of these links and improved assessments of the risks already at play.

Let me share with you a specific example. A couple of weeks ago I visited Bangladesh. The main purpose was to look into the situation for the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled from Myanmar, but the visit also reminded me of the fact that Bangladesh is one of the most exposed countries to climate change, due to geographic and demographic reasons. Bangladesh is a country where extreme poverty still is prevalent and where one third of the country is projected to be under water within only a few years.

Around half a million people per year are estimated to migrate internally – the adverse effects of climate change being one of the main reasons. Add to this the influx of refugees from Myanmar in recent months, which have put additional pressure on an already exposed environment. I have no doubt the international community needs better assessments of this and similar situations in order to respond as effectively as possible, taking into account all factors that are at play.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mitigating climate change and its negative security consequences is a key priority for the Swedish government, including during our term in the Security Council.

Improved governance and increased attention to climate related security risks is urgently needed. There is no doubt that the UN should take a leading role in this regard. We have been very clear on this.

However, there is currently an institutional gap in the UN system when it comes to addressing the risks of instability, insecurity and conflict arising from the interaction of climate change and social, economic and political factors. This must change. For the UN to be truly fit for purpose, with conflict prevention at the centre of its efforts, the UN needs to have the capacity to manage climate-related security risks.

It is as such a matter of UN reform: to successfully build a stronger UN that delivers sustainable development and peace for the future, reform efforts must take a climate changed world into account.

Disruptive consequences of climate change will inevitably end up on the table of the Secretary General and the Security Council –our experiences from this year has already proven this.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Lake Chad Basin region – and which I mentioned earlier in my speech - presents a case in point. The impact of climate change on human livelihoods and security is apparent and widespread. This was also recognized by the Security Council during its visit to the region earlier this year.

In its subsequent resolution, the Security Council emphasized the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies by the UN relating to climate change impacts – an initiative by Sweden to move climate issues to the security council's table.

However, in the follow-up report on the resolution to the Council, analysis on climate-related security risks was lacking. This is clear evidence of the urgent need to strengthen the UN's ability within this field. Let us view this as an opportunity to move this agenda forward.

Let me stress a few points where concrete action are needed:

1. First of all, we need an institutional home for these issues within the UN system. There simply needs to be a function responsible for pulling together information, developing risk assessments and reporting on climate-related security risks to decision making bodies of the UN, including the Security Council. We have been advocating for this on several occasions, and more voices have been added to this call.

2. Secondly, we need to improve our awareness of climate-related security risks. This means both increasing our understanding but also making better use of the knowledge that already exists. Enhanced reporting from the field on the link between climate change and security would make a big difference.

This is about delivering on the call of the Lake Chad Resolution: i.e. improving risk assessments and risk management strategies. The knowledge that exists is currently not informing the Security Council in a systematic manner. This must change. Adequate risk assessments are a prerequisite for adequate response strategies. In this regard, we have suggested that a network of academic and research institutions could provide analysis to the UN. I would very much welcome to hear the thoughts on this from the experts here today.

3. Thirdly, we need to make risk assessments much more integrated and strategic, taking into account how climate and environmental risks interact with social, political, demographic and economic factors. This is part and parcel of the sustaining peace agenda. We need to apply interdisciplinary approaches and move away from methods where we analyze and manage risks in siloes.

Identifying risks is crucial when talking about security issues related to climate change, I would like to mention the Global challenge annual report 2017 that identifies factors that affect risks:
- The human release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mainly through carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels.
- The damages to ecosystems that store large amounts of carbon, particularly forests and coastal marine ecosystems.
- Our own capacity to curb global emissions and coordinate efforts to reduce emissions. Driven by our understanding of tipping points and increasing the sense of urgency among politicians and the public.
- And finally, knowledge, the knowledge of how our actions influence the climate which in turn affects our ability to resilience.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With one year left at the table of the Security Council, Sweden will continue to advocate for the urgency of this agenda and for the need to strengthen the UN's capacity in this regard. We stand ready to support this, both financially and politically. And we believe others would be willing to follow.

Let me end by pointing to the Secretary General's Climate Summit in September 2019: this summit offers a pivotal moment to bring real change to how we address climate-related security risks. This topic can and should be on the summit's agenda, and the foundations for this should be laid now.

As Secretary General Guterres has said himself: "We are dealing with scientific facts, not politics. And the facts are clear. Climate change is a direct threat in itself and a multiplier of many other threats."

I very much look forward to hearing the panelists and experts here today, and hope that our discussion will be part of continued efforts to strengthen our joint focus on this critical agenda.