Ambassador David Pressman
Alternate Representative to the UN for Special Political Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
May 26, 2016
Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me begin by thanking Special Representative Chambas, Executive Secretary Barbut, Executive Director Laborde, and Madam Ibrahim for your briefings today. I’d also like to give a special thanks to Spain and Egypt for drawing this Security Council’s attention to the urgent need to focus on the effects of the changing climate on security in the Sahel region.
Mr. President, some Council members have pushed back on the appropriateness of having this discussion in this forum. Skepticism about the relationship between climate change and security is not new; but skepticism does not make the facts any less serious or urgent. Climate change is not just about whether glaciers remain majestic or polar bears survive. Climate change is an aggravating factor – among other political, socioeconomic, and security considerations – that exacerbates underlying tensions, undermines governance, contributes to resource conflicts, and negatively impacts developments.
As Secretary of State John Kerry said last year, this isn’t about Bambi. This is about people and it’s about poverty. While no conflict is caused solely by climate, to ignore the interplay between security and climate change – and there are few places where that interplay is felt more acutely than the Sahel – is to ignore fundamental realities.
From Mauritania and Mali to the Lake Chad Basin to the Horn of Africa, we see the complex challenges exacerbated by climate change on peace, stability, and security. Unpredictable rainfall, higher temperatures, frequent droughts, and natural disasters in the Sahel have augmented existing destabilizing pressures from terrorism to trafficking, and have exacerbated the problems of population displacement and weak governance. Put simply, climate change is indeed a threat multiplier.
The Boko Haram crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region starkly illustrates the interplay between climate change and security.
According to a recent World Food Program study, “over the past half century, Lake Chad has receded drastically due to various environmental pressures,” which has increased competition and conflict over already scarce resources like arable land and water and degraded “regional food security and quality of life.”
Simultaneously, Boko Haram’s barbaric terrorist campaign, now entering its seventh year, has greatly exacerbated the existing food insecurity faced by the population of the Lake Chad Basin region. The Boko Haram crisis has disrupted farming and trade and cut off communities from the means they require to subsist and to survive. Today, an estimated 4.2 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in the Lake Chad Basin region and 2.6 million are displaced within Nigeria and the neighboring countries. Meanwhile, this humanitarian crisis has been but a blip on the screen of the international community – drawing only sporadic attention and a woefully insufficient response. Indeed, Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien this week referred to the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region, where poverty and desertification have been compounded by Boko Haram violence, as the world’s “most neglected, under-reported, underfunded, and least addressed.”
Military, intelligence, and law enforcement tools, which protect human rights norms, are vital to combating terrorism – and, for this, we applaud the important territorial advances by the governments of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon to roll back some of Boko Haram’s safe havens in the Lake Chad Basin region. However, only a truly comprehensive strategy that mobilizes a broad range of stakeholders, including development and humanitarian actors, can address the conditions conducive to terrorism and the scars left in its wake.
The United States is encouraged that under Nigerian President Buhari’s leadership, last week’s Security Summit of regional leaders committed to carrying out a “sustained, comprehensive approach” against Boko Haram that couples rights-respecting security operations with civilian efforts to restore stability and promote governance and economic development to break the cycle of violence in all countries where Boko Haram is active.
The United Nations system, including the Special Representatives for West Africa and the Sahel and Central Africa, should continue to assist the Lake Chad Basin region to implement such a comprehensive strategy. In addition, the UN needs to mainstream preventing violent extremism and counterterrorism issues throughout its core work on peace and security and sustainable development so that it can help Member States, including in the broader Sahel region, deliver in these crucial areas. We also encourage the UN system and its partners to make further progress toward the effective implementation of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, first endorsed by this Council in 2013, and which should now be re-evaluated and updated so that it can better assist governments in the region to mitigate against compound threats, including climate change.
Let’s be clear: no one is suggesting that Boko Haram was caused by climate change. It most certainly was not.
But the devastation wrought by environmental degradation and challenges like severe drought and the scarcity of resources that come along with it can spark the kind of poverty and political volatility that is the oxygen of discontent and a driver of instability if left unchecked. Recognizing this reality doesn’t require us to be any less relentless in our pursuit of terrorists like Boko Haram or AQIM. We will not be. It just allows us to be more effective in doing so.
As our discussion here today illustrates, the complex and interrelated governance, security, and humanitarian challenges, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, across the Sahel region require urgent and fresh thinking and action. We encourage the leaders of the Sahel to continue to deepen their cooperation, including through the G5-Sahel and the Nouakchott Process, by coming to agreement on a shared vision of the region’s threats and the efforts needed to address them, including improving the sustainable management of natural resources and effective, inclusive governance – governance that both combats terrorism and addresses the conditions conducive to it.
Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.
Source:: Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Peace and Security in Africa: Challenges in the Sahel Region