By Manik Mehta
NEW YORK: Against the backdrop of the upcoming gargantuan signing ceremony of the Paris climate change agreement at the UN, the International Peace Institute, together with Italy and the Security Council Report, organised a policy forum here Wednesday to highlight the precarious situation of small island developing states (SIDS), severely impacted by climate change.
“This outpouring of global support is a testament to the (Paris) accord’s universality but while there are many parts of the world where this agreement is especially relevant, no group of nations has a greater claim on that than the SIDS,” said Warren Hoge, the IPI’s vice president for external relations.
Hoge moderated the policy forum – or “power house panel”, as it was being called – that included panelists such as David Nabarro, special adviser to the UN Secretary General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change; Gerard van Boheman, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the UN, Michael B. Gerrard, director of Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, and Shyla Raghav, director of climate change policy, Conservation International.
A total of 60 heads of state and government along with other dignitaries from 155 countries will descend on the United Nations in New York on Friday for the Paris climate change agreement ceremony.
The recent adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement provides an increasingly solid basis for comprehensively addressing the impact of climate change.
Building on the growing international commitment to address the impacts of climate change, the purpose of the forum was to discuss the peace and security implications of climate change for SIDS and to consider concrete ways in which the UN system, its member states, and other stakeholders can do more to enable SIDS to address this threat and its effects.
The SIDS, Hoge said, are low-lying coastal countries with similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environment and development areas.
He added that the SIDS’ growth and development were held back by high communications, energy and transportation costs, irregular transport volumes, disproportionately expensive public administration and infrastructure due to their small size and little opportunities to increase economies of scale.
According to the UN, there are today 52 SIDS, broken down into three regions – the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa-Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea, together classified under the rubric AIMS.
David Nabarro, special advisor to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that sustainable development cannot be achieved without a successful action to tackle climate change, “both by reducing emissions and building climate resilience”.
“Climate change is a threat multiplier.
The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change drew on strong connection to climate change, food scarcity, shortage of water and violent conflict.
The collective understanding is that climate change does impinge on peace and security, and can indeed undermine peace and security.
“This has been well demonstrated in context of the Security Council and other forums, including Intergovenmental forums,” he said.
Climate change threatened the capacity of governments to meet the people’s basic needs and this greatly increases the potential for violent conflict and indeed for humanitarian disasters which also contribute to migration.
Nabarro also pointed out to the opportunities in the form of the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development, and the COP21 Paris climate change agreement which would provide the political impetus for all the institutions.
Like other islands elsewhere, the tiny island republic of Maldives in the Indian Ocean has been severely hit by climate change because that country is, literally, “sinking” in the water.
Referring to the signing of the Paris climate change agreement on Friday at the UN, Ismail Zahir, a representative of the Maldivian mission to the UN said that the Maldives was the first country to sound the alarm.
“It is not the ceremony (on Friday) but rather the concrete action we need to take to cut greenhouse emission responsible for the crisis.
Apparently, the emission reduction pledges on the table are insufficient to help the average global temperature to remain under 2 degree Celsius, let alone the vastly safer 1.5 degree mark. He called for more and faster action to keep the sea level from rising.
He referred the cyclone windstorm that had pounded Fiji earlier this year.
“This shows how a single extreme weather event is capable of wiping out decades of progress and these storms seem to be getting worse and more powerful every year,” he said.
While hailing the Paris agreement as a diplomatic triumph, Michael B. Gerrard saw challenges ahead. He said that the SIDS would be largely underwater at 2 degree C.
Sayla Raghav discerned a shift in attitudes; she said that climate change was now being discussed holistically rather than as an environmental issue.
“In the past, climate change was marginalised as an environmental issue.”
She gave the example of Colombia which, albeit not a SIDS, had recently experienced a large and severe El Nino event which displaced about 5.0 per cent of the country’s population caused by flooding and landslides. Relevance of modelling and tools is very crucial and very important in context of mitigating or reducing violent conflict.