Climate change is a kind of justice

Statement of H.E. Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines at the Security Council Open Debate, “Addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security.” January 25, 2019, New York.

MR. President,

Humanity is facing the ultimate challenge to the life of the planet and the penultimate challenge to the survival of mankind: the imminent prospect of ecological collapse. This won’t be another Ice Age in the course of nature but a dead certainty generated entirely by human activity—and inaction. Science proves it. Experience shows it. The increasing ferocity of storms demonstrates its certain advent. Only mumbo jumbo disputes it.

The devastating effects of climate change are suffered the most severely in especially vulnerable countries like mine. Sea levels have risen 60 centimeters—more than three times the global average of 19. This puts 60 percent of localities nationwide at grave risk of flooding and salt- water intrusion. It will require the relocation of 14 million Filipinos. We have 7,107 beautiful islands; we will have much less.

Not all these losses will be regretted. We have so many islands and maritime features that they defy effective patrolling. They are havens for massive drug trafficking: the scourge of mankind and the death of nations as evident in the desperate flight of populations from narco-states.

Should global warming not be arrested, 98 percent of our coral reefs—rich fields for fishery—will die out by mid-century, becoming extinct by the end of it. To be sure, we would welcome the evaporation of territorial disputes when the reefs they concern vanish completely beneath the rising sea, along with the structures built on them. Every cloud has a silver lining.

As Supertyphoon Haiyan powerfully showed, storm surges wipe out coastal communities in a matter of minutes—erasing decades of economic progress and social improvement; leaving perdurable misery in their wake. The 2018 Global Climate Rate Index shows that our country lost an annual average of 1 percent of our GDP in the last two decades.

World Resources Institute predicts the Philippines will experience a “high” degree of water shortage by 2040.  Our country ranks 57th among 167 countries most water stressed by then. Agriculture will be all but wiped out.

Climate change has generated civil strife and foreign wars; it will get worse, and there will be more. A new Dark Age will descend on most of the planet as never before in breadth. And unlike in the past, the darkness will never be lifted. No age of enlightenment will follow. Human life won’t be worth living except for brutes. And there are quite a few of those already in countries denying climate change and refusing its challenges.

For less developed countries that trace their condition to the depredations of developed ones, it will be a self-destructive retribution. If all mankind cannot have this planet on the same terms; no part of mankind should. Misery quite rightly craves company. It is a kind of justice.

We must develop better risk assessment and mitigation strategies for climate-related disasters. Although we emit less than half of 1 percent of global emissions, the Philippines has put itself firmly on the path of low-carbon development. Far better-off societies will not, from greed and self-serving ignorance. But Filipinos are different: Whatever is the right thing for everyone to do, Filipinos will do it; even if no one else does. This is why we were the only country to take in refugees during the Holocaust; and the offer stands for others today. We have adopted, kept improving and are actually implementing a comprehensive National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan. But climate change knows no boundaries and we are, each of us, at the mercy of actions and inaction beyond our borders.

Therefore, stronger synergies among states and deeper international cooperation are imperative. In 2009 the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response was adopted. In 2014 the Philippines hosted the Asia-Europe Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management extending collaboration and strengthening coordination. And we are committed to the work of AHA and the singular collaboration of One Asean, One Response.

Globally we are committed to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and above all to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We will never see a reason to abandon the latter. In that sense, we share the intelligence of everyone who continues to adhere to it.

Support for developing countries in terms of financing, technology transfer and capacity-building should be strengthened—while respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Mr. President,

The climate-driven conflicts and desperate mass population movements we see today are what we will see more of tomorrow. No country will be safe. Some can retreat behind walls, but they cannot thereafter venture beyond them. And sooner or later, the chaos will scale any wall. Countries of wealth and power may have a brief respite from the final catastrophe, but their lives will be very much diminished.

But those with the intelligence and caring to do something about climate change should not beg for cooperation from those who lack both. In the end we shall have the sad but real satisfaction of a common fate.

But we might suggest that the Security Council chisel the climate change challenge on granite as its first, foremost and last security concern. When the end finally comes and all social bonds are severed, all the conflicts of the past will seem like sports competitions by comparison. And that includes the far more horrendous first two decades of the 21st century; which cannot plead ignorance as an excuse—with the horrors of the 20th still fresh in its mind. Thank you.


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