UNGA 2021: Climate change drives security concerns in Sahel and small island states

‘It’s an existential threat,' Maldives minister tells side event co-hosted by the UAE

HITHADHOO, MALDIVES - DECEMBER 14: The Indian Ocean laps against Koattey wetlands on December 14, 2019 in Hithadhoo, Maldives. The neighbouring Koattey and Eydhigali Kilhi wetlands are among the largest wetlands in the Maldives and have become integral to the countrys EU and Australia-funded Climate Change Adaptation Project to preserve and manage the wetlands and utilise them as a natural defence against floods and rising seas. The wetlands can store several tens of million cubic meters of water, act as barriers against rising sea levels and flooding caused by extreme weather events, they also contribute to waste water management, groundwater recharge, freshwater storage, and purify water that flows through their systems. Plants found here are critical in controlling erosion. Along with coral reefs, wetlands are the primary defence that a small island nation like the Maldives has against climate change. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
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The destructive droughts and rising sea levels caused by climate change are directly linked to security issues in places such as the Sahel and small island nations, a UN General Assembly event co-hosted by the UAE heard on Thursday.

In the Sahel, an area that includes much of the Sahara, climate change is affecting people in unpredictable ways, driving displacement and putting a heavy strain on agricultural and water resources -- problems that can lead to violence and other acts of desperation.

“The confluence of conflict, governance issues, chronic underdevelopment, poverty, demographic pressure and the impact of climate change and livelihood is driving millions to the fringes of survival,” said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Mauritania's minister of foreign affairs.

The event, hosted by the UAE and Denmark, explored the impact of climate change on security in the Sahel and small island developing states (SIDS) and how the international community can help.

Aminath Shauna, the Maldives minister of environment, called climate change “an existential threat” to the future of her island nation.

The vast majority of the islands that make up the Maldives are only one metre above sea level, making the country extraordinarily vulnerable to climate change. Ms Shauna said there is “no higher ground” for her people to run to.

She said her country needs access to international financing that they don’t currently have because they are considered to be a “middle-income” country.

The environment minister said that as the threat and impact of climate change has worsened, the Maldives has experienced a concerning rise in radicalisation.

“We don't have the kind of financing that we need to really put into programmes to prevent radicalisation, countering violent extremism, and issues of Covid and debt and all these things, but we also have urgent adaptation issues that we want to be addressing at home,” said Ms Aminath.

The event came hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the UN Security Council to take climate change more seriously.

“Look at almost every place where you see threats to international peace and security today and you'll find that climate change is making things less peaceful, less secure and rendering our response even more challenging,” Mr Blinken said.

Updated: September 25, 2021, 6:26 PM