Remarks by Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield at the UN Security Council Stakeout on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria and the Threat of Sea Level Rise

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, briefs reporters on humanitarian aid in Syria and climate change.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 14, 2023


AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: How are you all this morning?

QUESTION: Good. How are you?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think I’m okay. Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you guys have done the necessary; and you ladies have done the necessary. [Laughter.]

So I’m here – I have two topics I want to discuss today. One, a potential resolution on humanitarian aid crossings into Syria and, secondly, our engagements on climate change including the Security Council meeting we just had on sea level rise and its threat – the threat that it poses to international peace and security.

So first on Syria, as you know, we discussed today – I’m sorry I’m looking at the wrong remarks here. You have the right one, Nate? Oh there, sorry.First on Syria. The primary thing is we need to keep the aid flowing. And that is what matters to us. It is what is important to the Syrian people, and that is to get the help they desperately need as quickly as possible.

That said, the decision to open additional border crossings is welcome. Long overdue – one week after the disaster – but it is absolutely welcome.

Heeding the calls UN leaders made, I called repeatedly for a resolution to authorize additional border crossings. And I maintained that a resolution with monitoring mechanisms that codifies additional crossing and offers predictability that the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground need is by far the best way to achieve these goals.While any progress to get aid to the Syrian people is essential and much needed, we must ensure that the aid cannot be turned off on a whim.

A Security Council resolution would do just that. In the meantime, what we plan to do is diligently monitor the implementation of any agreement.

Vast amounts of aid need to reach the Syrian people as long as it takes; without preconditions, without unnecessary hurdles, and in a manner that ensures the safety of aid workers. And there’s no time to waste when lives are at stake. We’re all watching this every single day play in front of us on TV.Second, today is the latest in a series of important engagements I’ve had on how we can work nationally, bilaterally, and multilaterally, to combat the climate crisis.

Last week, I visited NASA’s Langley Research Center, where I saw the work of our scientists on the front lines of climate research. NASA’s satellites are providing open source and publicly available data on Earth’s land, water temperature, weather, and climate.

The goal is simple: to provide the information everyone needs to work collectively and to protect our environment. This visit follows visits that I made in Africa last month where I met with activists in Maputo restoring the city’s last remaining mangrove, and entrepreneurs in Kenya innovating new green vehicles. And now today, we’re meeting here in the Security Council to discuss the peace and security threat that sea level rise poses to all of our communities.

My point is this: The climate crisis is at the forefront of our agenda and will remain one of our top priorities in 2023. It is an issue we’re working on at every level of our government. And as you have seen on my travels, it is a priority for me everywhere I go.

This is happening all over the world, right this second. The shores of small island nations and low-lying coastal areas are flooding causing damage disruption dislocation, on a dramatic scale. This has the potential to disrupt peace and security and exacerbate existing insecurity and conflicts.

For our part, the United States is working with communities vulnerable to sea level rise at home and engaging vulnerable states abroad. Through the historic Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in U.S. history, we are on track to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Internationally, we’re urging major emitters to raise their ambitions and meet the Paris Agreement targets. And the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience – PREPARE – is also helping vulnerable developing countries adapt to and manage the impact of climate change, including sea level rise.

But we have to do more. We must do more. And we must do more together. This Council must take notice and we have to take action. I want to thank all of you. And with that I look forward to a couple of questions.

MODERATOR: We have time for two quick questions. We can start here.

QUESTION: Ambassador, Margaret Besheer, Voice of America. Ambassador, you’re saying you want a resolution. The Secretary-General was just at that podium about an hour ago and he said the aid is flowing, the crossings are open; if that changes, he would seek the necessary measures, otherwise he seemed satisfied. Are you afraid it could be provocative or antagonistic to maybe the Russians, and it would be counterproductive to seek a resolution?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We want the aid to flow –

QUESTION: But it is flowing. The Secretary-General said it is flowing.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s flowing now; it’s flowing now, let’s admit that. But we need to watch this carefully. We need to monitor it carefully. And again, as the Secretary-General said earlier, we need a resolution, so we will be watching it closely. If the aid is flowing and it’s flowing unfettered, and NGOs and the UN are able to get in without being blocked, and the people in need are getting the assistance they need, that’s good. But we have to watch to see that that happens. It took seven days to get this decision to allow the borders to be open. That decision should have been made on day one.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that you’re not going immediately for a resolution, you’re going to watch and wait. Is that what we should understand?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s what you should understand for the moment.QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador, my name is Ibtisam Azem, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper. To follow-up on Syria, two things. The first one, you said you’re going to monitor how the aid is flowing. How do you want to do that? And then the second part, the Security Council, you are right in saying that it took seven days to the Syrian regime to authorize these extra crossing. But a lot of people criticize the Security Council too for not meeting before yesterday?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s a legitimate criticism. But in terms of how we monitor – as you know, the U.S. is the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance. We’re working closely with international NGOs on the ground, with local NGOs on the ground, with the UN, and we listened to you.

So, our hope is that we will hear from these organizations. We have a DART team on the ground – a disaster assistance response team – from USAID working on the ground directly with people. So we will use all of those elements to monitor what is happening on the ground. And I know that we’ll hear from you if things are not reaching the people who are in need.