Security and climate change

Press Club, Washington D.C., 21. oktober 2015

Speech held by Foreign Minister Børge Brende at the Henry Bacon Seminar at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., October 21 2015.

Check against delivery

 

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to address this morning’s seminar to honour the achievements of the SS Henry Bacon and its crew.

The story of the SS Henry Bacon is one of many examples of American sacrifice, heroism and struggle for freedom put into action. Your role in liberating Europe from Nazi occupation will never be forgotten by Norway.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende held a speech "Security and climate change" at the Henry Bacon Seminar in Washington D.C. on October 21. Credit: Frode O. Andersen, MFA, Oslo

Our shared history remains an important element in the strong ties between Norway and the US today. To quote Churchill: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Looking forward from where the SS Henry Bacon was sunk in the Norwegian Arctic in 1945, we now find the front lines of one of the gravest security challenges of our time: Global climate change.  

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The Arctic represents a global cooling system and it holds back 7 meters of sea-level rise in its ice caps. With temperatures in the Arctic currently rising twice as fast as the global average, the ice and snow is melting at record pace.

The Arctic permafrost holds vast amounts of carbon, that will be released as carbon dioxide and methane if the permafrost thaws.

Let’s be clear: The melting of the Arctic snow and ice is a threat to far more than traditional livelihoods and polar bears.

Arctic warming is amplifying and accelerating global warming, which is causing unprecedented damage to our planet.

This is why the Arctic is our “canary in the mine, and the dramatic changes in the Arctic is a strong call for the world to take action on climate change.

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Climate change is no longer something only our children and grandchildren will have to worry about. It is happening, here and now.

As foreign minister, I have to deal with the consequences of climate change every day.

It is already having wide-reaching implications for top-priority foreign policy areas such as trade, mass migration, humanitarian assistance, conflict prevention and security.

Due to its scale, speed and unpredictability, climate change is rightly described as the ultimate "threat multiplier". And we must deal with it for what it is - a major global security threat.

In this sense, climate change belongs to the same category as violent extremism, cyber-attacks, organised crime and pandemics.

Only when we internalise that climate change is a question of national security will we be able to reach consensus on the adequate responses.

The effects of climate change are being felt as drought, flooding and extreme weather patterns in countries across the world.

Importantly, climate change is disproportionately affecting fragile and conflict-ridden states and regions.

According to WHO, global climate change already accounts for more than 160 000 deaths annually, mostly children in developing countries.

In the near future, Africa and the Middle East will experience even more severe drought.

And food production may be halved in North Africa and Latin America.

We may think that today’s refugee crisis in Europe is dramatic. But we do not want to see the results when absence of food and water is added to a mix of religious extremism and international terrorism in already fragile states.

Faced with a challenge of this magnitude, we must make use of all available tools, including mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in a comprehensive approach.

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is why we need a strong and forward-looking agreement in Paris.

All too often, the public debate focuses on the costs associated with reducing emissions. But we now know that the cost of not taking action is much higher.

We urgently need to demonstrate that we are serious about cutting emissions.

And we should go for the low-hanging fruit first. 

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has proven a viable model, showing results in countries like Brazil, Ethiopia and Peru.

Norway is committing three billion NOK every year to these efforts through our Climate and Forest Initiative.

This is money well spent in a sector that can deliver about one third of the emission reductions needed in the coming decades.

Fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out. They are responsible for high greenhouse gas emissions and huge budget deficits in many countries.

Cutting emissions of short-lived climate pollutants is another way of delivering quick results.

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However, it is clear that climate change is already affecting access to land, food and economic opportunities for millions, if not billions, of people.

And this is affecting our security.

In order to reduce the negative consequences of climate change, we need to step up efforts to address the root causes of climate vulnerability and fragility.

Small Island States know better than most that investing in disaster risk reduction is key to preventing climate-related disasters and future economic losses.

Still, in 2012 only 1% of total ODA was spent on disaster risk reduction in 40 of the world’s most disaster-affected countries (kilde: UNDP).

Millions of people need support to adapt to climate change. Many of them are already suffering from conflict and crisis.

This is why it is so important to secure sustainable and long-term climate financing, especially for the most vulnerable countries and regions. This is crucial to reducing the security threats posed by climate change.

The global goal of mobilising 100 billion US dollars per year by 2020 is within reach.

And even though this is an ambitious goal – the amount is modest in comparison to the large private sector investments.

The private sector must play a fundamental role in providing solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Over the last few years, research and investment has made green technology and renewable energy available to – and affordable for – millions of people around the world.

And if we use our public resources smartly, they can be multiplied by private-sector investments.

This is why it is so crucial that the Paris agreement send a strong message to public and private actors that low-emission, climate-resilient investment will pay off.

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In August, I took part in the Glacier conference in Anchorage.

I stronfly agree with what President Obama said at the conference: climate change is a trend that is affecting all other trends; economic trends and security trends.

Norway and the US share the same high ambitions for dealing with climate change, in the Arctic - and globally.

In the Arctic, we must aim to sett the gold standard for regional cooperation and sustainable and responsible development. 

Globally, we must continue to explore novel ways of adapting our policies to the needs of those who are most severely affected by the impacts of climate change.

And we must keep searching for solutions in the larger sectors of our economies t5hat will enable us to cut emissions and build climate-resilient societies.

In this light, COP 21 in Paris represents an enormous opportunity.

We can turn the challenge around. We can use the common threat of climate change to bolster business innovation and international cooperation so that we are better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.   

Paris could be our last chance to get the basic architecture in place and prove that we are taking the situation seriously.

It is high time we recognise that addressing climate change is not a choice.

It is a necessity for the sake of our own security.

Thank you