Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s
remarks at the General Assembly follow-up meeting to the high-level
thematic debate on climate change, today, in New York:
I am honoured to join all of you this morning, and to speak about an issue that has emerged as one of the defining challenges of our time -– climate change.
There is now no question that human activity is the primary driver of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has given us a clear warning: absent a comprehensive and forceful response, the world faces a catastrophic situation.
Already, the effects are being felt everywhere -– unprecedented hurricanes and typhoons in the Caribbean, prolonged droughts in Africa and accelerated glacier melts in Asia and Latin America.
The global reach of these climate events means that this issue concerns all countries, and affects all people. However, it places a particularly immediate and severe burden on the poor.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report, on average, 1 person out of 19 in developing nations can expect to feel the impact of a climate disaster, compared to only 1 of 1,500 in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. And while most people in rich countries can adapt to some of the change with little effort -– by adjusting heating and cooling systems or putting in place flood defences -- the poor rarely have such means.
Thus, as temperature rises and extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, more poor people are being flooded out of their homes. Health risks are also being amplified, exposing millions to new and more frequent epidemics of mosquito-born diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
Similarly, the increased frequency of droughts in Africa means that women are walking greater distances to fetch water, often ranging from 10 to 15 kilometres a day. This takes time away from other vital tasks, imposes an immense physical burden on women, and often confronts them with personal security risks. This search for water also keeps children, especially girls, out of school.
These trends would be alarming enough individually, but taken together they amount to a development crisis –- unless action is taken on a war-footing, the world will not only miss the Millennium Development Goals, we will see existing development gains unravel as well.
This potential development roll-back is deeply worrying, and it raises unavoidable questions of equity and fairness. Nearly all emissions driving climate change can be traced back to industrialized and, to a lesser extent, middle-income and emerging economies. Yet by far the biggest burden is borne by the poorest and most vulnerable nations. Quite simply, our failure to address climate change will condemn the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population –- 2.6 billion people –- to a future of diminished opportunity.
Responding to climate change now through concrete actions -– both in the areas of mitigation and adaptation –- remains in every country’s interest. The ripple effects of dangerous climate change would extend far beyond the localities of those most immediately affected. We would have mass migrations and refugee flows, as well as rising tensions that could lead to wider insecurity.
For these reasons –- both of self-interest and historical responsibility -– the international community bears a special responsibility to the countries most vulnerable to climate change. We must respond by redoubling our efforts to provide substantial technological and financial assistance to such countries.
International assistance should focus in particular on enhancing the adaptive capacity and minimizing the vulnerability of poorer societies. This crucial development goal should be integrated into the national development plans.
Integration, however, should not imply that adaptation concerns can be met from within existing resources. In fact, it is clear that current official development assistance estimates for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty do not take into account the added costs of climate change, which will run into the tens of billions of dollars a year. It is now imperative for international donors to join together and provide this much needed funding.
For our part, both the Secretary-General and I will continue to make climate change one of our highest priorities here at the United Nations. We are encouraged by the attention the General Assembly and United Nations Member States are giving to this issue. We commend you Mr. President for your strong leadership in this regard.
Together, I am confident we can still rise to this challenge, and leave a safer world and a better climate for our children. The Secretary-General and I look forward to the outcome of your discussions today, and wish you all a very productive session.
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