UNHCR chief Guterres warns of security, displacement threats from climate change

News Stories, 23 November 2011

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
Climate is a growing cause of displacement in Africa, where some areas have been devastated by drought.

NEW YORK, United States, November 22 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today warned the UN Security Council in New York of the growing threat to international peace and security from climate change and its interaction with other mass displacement factors.

Addressing the Council members, Guterres said climate change was fuelling the scale and complexity of global displacement. He also cautioned against viewing climate change in isolation from other global megatrends such as population growth, urbanization, and growing food, water and energy insecurity.

"There is little value in posing the simplistic question, how many people are going to be displaced by climate change?," he said. "Instead, we should be addressing the more complex issue of the way in which global warming, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and other manifestations of climate change are interacting with, and reinforcing, other global imbalances, so as to produce some very powerful drivers of instability, conflict and displacement."

Guterres listed declining farming possibilities in developing countries, and competition for scarce resources such as water and agricultural land, as potential causes of both displacement and conflict.

He also spoke of risks to citizenship among people forced to abandon their small island states due to rising sea levels, and the increasing evidence of a relationship between climate change and flooding and other natural disasters which by one estimate displaced more than 40 million people in 2010.

"The process of climate change and its role in reinforcing other global imbalances constitutes an important threat to peace and security," he said. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, and which for the first time is facing physical limits to economic growth, that threat can only grow.

Guterres called on the Council members to take immediate steps to limit the extent to which climate change acts as a driver of conflict and displacement. He said it was imperative for the international community to establish a support programme to help poorer countries adapt and cope.

And he urged the international community to formulate and adopt a set of principles to help people forced to leave their country as a result of catastrophic environmental events but who may not otherwise meet the requirements necessary to be recognized under international law as refugees.

"Providing such support is a humanitarian imperative. But it is also our common interest," Guterres said. "If climate change goes unchecked, and if we fail to find sustainable solutions for displaced populations, we will be creating the conditions in which further breaches of international peace and security are certain to take place."

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Climate Change

The earth's climate is changing, and that concerns us as it could lead to displacement.

UNHCR and Climate Change

Where people flee, UNHCR is there to help.

Climate change and displacement

In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.

The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.

When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.

Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

Climate change and displacement

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."