News
04 Jun 2019, 13:50
Julian Wettengel

“Climate action is our new foreign policy imperative” – German foreign minister

German foreign minister Heiko Maas has said that climate action is the country’s new foreign policy imperative, as the security implications of its effects can already be seen across the globe. Germany aims to play a leading role in the fight against the risks to peace and stability posed by the climate crisis, Maas told diplomats at the Climate and Security Conference in Berlin, co-organised by the German government, think tank adelphi and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Former US state secretary John Kerry said that governments across the globe are not serious enough about climate action yet, adding that school children “have every right” to protest for more ambition.

Climate action belongs at the top of the international agenda and reaching climate targets is “the new imperative” of Germany’s foreign policy, said foreign minister Heiko Maas at the Berlin Climate and Security Conference. “The fight against the security policy consequences of climate change requires a global effort. And Germany aims to play a leading role in this,” Maas told foreign diplomats at his ministry.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry said global climate action lacks the necessary seriousness. “People are doing things, yes, but we’re not doing what we know we need to do,” said Kerry. “Not one country in the world is actually getting the job done.” Thus, school children across the world “have every right” to call for more ambition with their protests, he said. However, “we are in 2019 with too many in positions with responsibility still calling climate change a hoax,” added the US politician.

Governments also need to make climate policy relevant to people in countries that are less vulnerable to the direct effects of the climate crisis, said Kerry. “We need to prove that good governing is good economics, and that solving climate change is not just a way to save lives and stop climate’s geopolitical fallout; it is a way to create the jobs of the future that will put people back to work everywhere.”

We’re not doing what we know we need to do. Not one country in the world is actually getting the job done.

John Kerry, former US state secretary

The Berlin Climate and Security Conference brings together leading figures from governments, international organisations, the scientific community, the private sector and civil society to discuss the growing risks that climate change presents for peace and security. The German government has made climate action a focus of its ongoing two-year term as a member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and said it plans to use its diplomatic clout to ensure that climate change concerns are an integral part of UN security policy.

The Security Council so far has only hesitantly taken up the issue. During its last stint as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2011, Germany managed to get a presidential statement, in which the UNSC said it “expresses its concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

Now, Germany wants to see climate mainstreamed in the UNSC, to be able to better recognise, assess and act on the inter-linkage between climate change and peace building. “We want to adapt the structure of the UN Security Council's work,” said Maas at the conference. “At the moment, we are only dealing with crises, conflicts and wars as they occur. In the face of climate change, we need mechanisms to be able to react earlier.”

Call for action

In a Berlin Call for Action, which Maas launched at the conference, the signatories demand more United Nations (UN) experts on climate and security in affected regions, and a better alignment of climate policy with sustainable development, security and peacebuilding in all UN programmes.

They also call for a periodic Global Risk and Foresight Assessment by the UN to inform decision-making by governments.

At the conference, the directors of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) Ottmar Edenhofer and Johan Rockström presented their idea of designing a global Early Warning System to predict weather events such as the recent monsoon in India, for which the institute has already developed a forecast method.

Representatives of vulnerable countries demanded to be included in the debate about how to fight climate change and its security implications. “Africa must be part of the conversation,” said Ghana’s foreign minister Shirley Botchway. “Unfortunately for us, even though we are not the highest in terms of emissions, we get the worst of it in terms of effects.”

Pacific island state Nauru’s president Baron Divavesi Waqa said he believed in the United Nations’s ability to help fight the climate crisis. According to Waqa, the Security Council needs better climate security risk assessment and early warning systems in order to make better decisions. “Climate change is not going away. There will be no return to a normal climate in our lifetime. This seems to be lost on policy makers of some less vulnerable countries.” Waqa said climate security dropped from UN Secretary General António Guterres’ climate action summit in September as it is too controversial a topic.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International – who also attended the conference – said in a message on Twitter that foreign ministers should announce that the world is in a “state of climate emergency”. Ministers should do all they can to halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years, she wrote.

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