Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Debate on Climate and Security in Africa

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivers remarks at the Security Council

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 12, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. And let me start by expressing our deep appreciation to Gabon and to you Foreign Minister, Moussa-Adamo, for making climate and security a focus of your presidency this month. Gabon has been a true leader on this issue, which is truly appreciated by the council and others in the international community. I will also want to thank our briefers, who have so clearly articulated the perils of the climate crisis and as a fact, on peace and security in Africa.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my professional career in Africa, traveling to countries throughout the continent. And since arriving here at the United Nations and on the Security Council, I’ve had the chance to make two trips to Africa. One with the Council, in which we were in Niger* and had an opportunity to discuss the environmental impact on that country and how it relates to insecurity. Every time I return to Africa, I am struck by how much the environment and the climate has transformed. It’s hotter, the weather has become more extreme. We’ve seen massive droughts and floods. And like you Minister, we’ve watched Lake Chad as it diminishes in size. And we all wonder when Lake Chad will be no more. This is not just anecdotal. It’s the scientific reality. Africa is home to 17 of the world’s 20 most climate-vulnerable countries.

Here’s what we know: climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of Africans. It exacerbates displacement and chronic underdevelopment in countries that already face economic, governance, and security vulnerabilities. And it is a key driver of food insecurity across the continent. Climate change means shorter growing seasons for farmers, which means smaller annual yields. This has reduced agricultural productivity growth by up to 40 percent in sub-Saharan Africa – 40 percent. And devastating droughts have wiped out precious livestock. In Somalia, mothers talk of dead cattle that line the roads as they walk with their children to seek relief from famine. And some children do not make it, starving on the journey and mothers are forced to leave them behind. It’s unthinkable and it’s truly unbearable.

We also know that some Member States engage in behavior that not only exacerbates the climate crisis but makes it more difficult to adapt. Fish stocks are being illegally plundered off the coasts of west and east Africa. Rainforests, a vital, natural way to combat climate change, as we heard from you Minister, are being polluted by illegal mining and deforestation. Endangered species are poached and sold as luxury goods abroad. And funds from these illicit practices fuel terrorist groups, causing even more instability and harm. Given this long list of challenges and the little time we have to stave off climate catastrophes, climate and security are connected and must be at the top of this Council’s agenda.

But some Council members continue to argue that this is not the place to address climate-induced security threats and worked to defeat an effort last year by the Nigerien PR, that recognized this in a Council product. To be frank, it’s dumbfounding, and we really do need to change this. Climate change is a global challenge that requires urgent action, and it requires urgent action by this Council. And, of course, it’s a challenge that requires all of us to advance sustainable, clean policies in our own countries.

As President Biden made clear during the UN General Assembly debate last month, the United States is implementing a bold climate agenda. This summer, President Biden signed into law the single most aggressive action in our history to confront the climate crisis. It will help our country transition to a clean economy. And we hope it will encourage others to follow suit. Because in the 21st century, this work is vital to international peace and security. And here’s why: the consequences of climate change are key drivers of conflict.

When areas experiencing conflict or insecurity meet dwindling food supply and economic insecurity, the risk of violence goes up. And droughts, floods, fires, and severe weather are making food and economic crises even more dire and peacekeeping operations in complex environments even more dangerous. We also know that women, girls, and other historically marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by climate change and conflict.

As water sources dry up, women are forced to make longer journeys increasing their vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence. These trends, along with rising political violence, conflict, and insecurity, leave families with impossible choices as they struggle to put food on the table. That’s why the United States, through the Feed the Future initiative, has committed to investing more than 5 billion dollars over five years to strengthen global food security and nutrition. Sixteen of Feed the Future’s target countries are in Africa, and this initiative will help African communities and farmers better mitigate and adapt to scalable, sustainable, climate-smart agricultural methods. At the same time, we are working to help half a billion people in developing countries adapt to and manage the impacts of a changing climate through our PREPARE initiative. Here at the UN, we must ensure strong coordination between humanitarian, security, and climate programs. Doing so will help us better address the root causes of fragility. And we look forward to the Secretary General’s “New Agenda for Peace” next year.

In all of this work, women must be at the center of all decision-making. Women are key to driving local, sustainable solutions. Colleagues, we cannot wish the climate crisis away. I wish we could. We cannot ignore its impact on security and prosperity in Africa. And we cannot pretend that, somehow, the Security Council which is charged with maintaining international peace and security is not the right forum to tackle the security issues that stem from climate change.

So, today, let us renew our commitment to work together here in the Council, across the UN, and in our own countries to unlock a resilient, sustainable clean energy economy. One that enables Africa, with its ample resources and dynamism, to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis. Thank you, Mr. President.