The Security Council should consider climate change as a threat to international peace and security, particularly for such low-lying nations as the Marshall Islands whose “very existence” was at risk, a Government minister from that country said at a Headquarters press conference today. “This organization [the Council] that we put faith in to provide the security of our country is saying that that is not a security matter,” said Tony deBrum, Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands, as he briefed journalists on today’s so-called “Arria Formula” meeting on security implications of climate change.
Initiated in 1992 by Ambassador Diego Arria, the representative of Venezuela on the Security Council, such informal gatherings do not constitute an activity of the Council and are convened at the initiative of a member or members of the Council.
Mr. deBrum said he had participated as a panellist and reminded the Council that 35 years ago, he had come to the United Nations to petition for the independence of the Marshall Islands. Between 1976 and 1986, his delegation had annually visited the United Nations. In 1986, the Security Council finally approved the termination of the trusteeship and the establishment of an independent Government for the Marshall Islands, he added.
“We are very grateful for that, but it is hard to be excited about the independent Government seeking prosperity, progress and good life for its people to be faced with the situation where its very existence is threatened through climate change,” he said.
“It seems ironic that the very same agency whose approval was needed for my country to become a country again would consider my coming back to ask for help […] is not relevant to their work,” he said. There was no outcome document or a running record from that meeting, but he expected that his appeal had convinced some or more of the participants that climate change “is in fact a security issue, not just an economic/social/political issue”.
When asked which countries opposed treating climate change as the Council’s prerogative, he said China, Russian Federation and Guatemala were among them. “Surprisingly”, the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, of which the Marshall Islands was a member, had taken a position that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was the appropriate venue for deliberations on that issue. That revealed that “many of our own friends throughout the world do not realize the urgency of the problem,” he said.
Describing the situation, he said rising tides had started severely impacting the islands, with roads inundated every 14 days in keeping with the moon cycle. In southern parts of the nation, where there used to be a military base in the Second World War, ordnances were being exposed by the tides, presenting a clear danger to the life and welfare of people there. Even the nation’s capital was required to ration water. In the northern part, emergency kits for making drinking water were being distributed as well water was inundated with salt.
“It became unsuitable for human consumption, and dangerous even to our staple food and citrus,” he said. He said he was not predicting a looming crisis — it was already happening, affecting not just his own country but also Kiribati, Tuvalu and some of the other low-lying islands of the Pacific. He hoped that “logic will prevail and people see it as a just cause”.
In September, there will be a Pacific Islands Forum meeting to be held in his country, he said. He wished to invite the most significant players in the politics of climate change to visit the Marshall Islands to see the situation first hand. “We are not just sitting under coconut trees and waiting for coconuts to fall,” he said, stressing the need for proactive measures.
To an inquiry about Palau’s bid to bring the climate change issue before the International Court of Justice as a security and human rights violation, he said it was an interesting effort, but was not moving anywhere.
- UN, New York, February 15, 2013