PGA remarks to Security Council High-level Open Debate on “Sea-Level Rise: Implications for international peace and security”

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14 February 2023

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Mr. Secretary-General,

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

I thank Minister Ian Borg and the Permanent Mission of Malta for holding this important debate.

We are in a new era of history – one of cascading, interlocking, rapid and sweeping crises.

We cannot deny that climate change is one of the greatest challenge of our generation.

It was the single most raised issue by your world leaders during the High-Level Week last September.

It is the single biggest galvanizer of young people marching in your streets – because our inaction is robbing them of their future.

It is an issue that demands focus and coherence across the UN system.

For the General Assembly, this means accelerating action on climate and water.

For ECOSOC, it means addressing the social and economic aspects.

And if we want to tackle it through a whole-of-UN approach, as we should, the Security Council has a role to play, too.


According to the ancient writer from Syria, Publilius Syrus, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

But our seas are not calm today. They are rising.

At the current rate, sea levels will be 1 to 1.6 meters higher by 2100, according to the World Climate Research Programme.

That means that in less than 80 years from now, 250 to 400 million people will likely need new homes in new locations.

You don’t need me to tell you that the displacement of hundreds of millions of people is a security risk.

In the Nile and Mekong Deltas – some of the richest agricultural regions in the world – 10 to 20 per cent of arable land will sink beneath the waves.

These and other fertile river deltas are now rice- and bread-baskets for their own countries and regions.

They are also vital pieces in the complex puzzle of world nutrition to feed our growing population.

Losing these areas can have knock-on effects around the globe.

Climate induced sea-level rise is also provoking new legal questions that are at the very core of national and state identity.

What happens to a nation’s sovereignty – including UN membership – if it sinks beneath the sea? Including their voting rights, as well.

There are rules about the creation of states – but none about their physical disappearance.

Who cares for their displaced populations? As it has been rightly asked by the Secretary-General.

Or how would even the first changes to shorelines influence maritime boundaries?

And how would that effect exclusive economic zones?

I welcome that the International Law Commission and the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee have taken a proactive stance by considering these issues for urgent debate.


We know the risks, and we see the uncertainties and instabilities that we are going to face.

And we can’t doubt that these will open the door for conflict and dispute, endangering global peace and security.

And where this door is open, this Council has a responsibility to act.

It is critical to invest in prevention today, rather than address the implications of food scarcity and mass migration tomorrow.

We can agree it makes sense morally and financially.

And it can take many forms.

We should integrate climate analysis into our planning for conflict prevention and protection efforts.

And we should recognize the significance of climate action as a key tool for peacebuilding.

Science and data offer impartial evidence to direct our decisions.

Science tells us that whether cities or countries disappear depends on whether we as humans counteract the threat.

The Paris Agreement – and its targets for mitigation, adaptation and finance – offer our primary defense against the risks.

We need to collectively raise our ambitions.

The General Assembly is doing its part.

Just last week, we held briefings by eminent scientists on the links between climate, conflict and cooperation.

I heard the urgent calls made for world leaders to take a whole-of-Government, whole-of-society approach to these issues.

We have the data. We have the frameworks. What is needed now – as ever – is the political will to act.

“We need bold actions, not unfulfilled promises,” as President Ramkalawan of Seychelles put it in September.


Many of you at this table will remember 2012, when Hurricane Sandy forced UN Headquarter in New York to close for an unprecedented three straight days.

Storm surge from the East River came over FDR Drive and rushed into the lower levels of the UN.

There were fish swimming in the basement next to the UN servers.

In the aftermath, the UN faced sharp criticism over the silence and lack of preparedness.

More than a decade later, I turn the question to you today: Are you prepared? Are we prepared?

Have you done your part to uphold the collective responsibility to manage climate-related security risks?

Have you learned the lessons of prevention? Have we learned the lessons of prevention?

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” as Lao Tzu wisely observed hundreds of years ago.

Climate emergencies open new windows for cooperation and inclusion.

So let us strengthen our partnerships.

Let us encourage local expertise to guide our resolve.

We have enough crises on our plate. Our agendas are packed, and they are expanding.

It is our time to transform.

I will work to support Member States to ensure that the General Assembly plays its part in that.

I implore the Council to assume its role in this collective effort.

If not, I fear the PGA in 2100 or even in 2050 will represent fewer than 193 UN Member States.

I thank you.

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