President Srgjan Kerim, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I invite everyone in the room to look around you.
When you do, you will most likely see some of the 38 Small Island Developing States that are members of the United Nations.
Now look into the not-too-distant future, and imagine a General Assembly Room in which some of those Small Island States are no longer present.
Name plates are gone.
Seats are empty.
Such a future is not only possible; it is entirely probable, unless each and every country represented in this Assembly Hall works together to transform the global debate on climate change, from one characterized by and failed promises, to one based on concrete measures that will save those people and communities most vulnerable to global warming.
Small Island States, and other vulnerable countries, are at the front-line of climate change. Our coasts are already under siege. Our beaches are already eroding. Our land is already being washed away. Our coral reefs, and the marine life that they support, are already dying. Our homes, way-of-life and culture are already at risk. Our human rights are already being compromised, and our very lives are already being imperilled.
The extreme vulnerability of Small Island States, low-lying coastal areas, and other threatened communities was brought movingly into focus at a recent meeting I attended in Geneva, during which five young people from around the world, gave testimony about the everyday human face of global warming. During the meeting, which was convened by former UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, these climate witnesses told us of crop failures and hunger; of beach erosion, salination and the loss of arable land; of forced migration away from ancestral homes; and of the tragic loss of loved ones who paid the ultimate price for man’s failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
As well as offering an extremely powerful message to world leaders, these testimonies brought into sharp focus the particular characteristics of vulnerable communities and peoples, and the essential link between vulnerability and climate justice.
The testimonies demonstrated that vulnerability exists at different levels and has a number of different dimensions.
At one level, vulnerability is an inescapable consequence of geography. The physical characteristics, topography, or climate of certain countries makes them immediately and critically more susceptible to the various types of environmental degradation associated with climate change. However, this is not the only way to understand and measure vulnerability.
Equally important is the ability or capacity of communities to respond to climate change. In terms of mitigation, small Island States and many other vulnerable countries contribute very little to global warming and thus, by extension, have only a limited ability to tackle the problem through domestic policy. Internationally, our voice is not well heard in key global fora, and thus we face the challenge of ensuring the kind of responses that we, better than anyone else, know are necessary. Similarly, significant financial, human and technical resource constraints reduce our ability to adapt to the everyday realities of climate change and to protect our peoples, our land and our livelihoods.
The fact that vulnerable developing countries contribute least, yet stand to suffer the most from climate change; the fact that we possess limited domestic and foreign policy tools to effectively mitigate its effects; and the fact that we lack the capacity to protect ourselves through adaptation programmes; together suggest a need to address the concept of climate JUSTICE.
Within an international community based upon the rule of law, universal values of equality, human rights and dignity, it is surely wrong for small vulnerable communities to suffer because of the actions of other larger more powerful countries, actions over which they have no control, and little or no protection.
This in-turn begs the question, how can such small vulnerable communities receive climate JUSTICE?
The Maldives believes that a key way in which Small Island States and other vulnerable communities can promote climate justice and thereby remind other, especially more developed countries around the world about the responsibility they bear for climate change and their corresponding duty to protect and assist; is to adopt a rights-based approach to global warming.
In particular, it is my firm conviction that the United Nations should consider the adoption of a new universal right – namely, the right to live in a safe, secure and sustainable environment. The Declaration of such a right would promote climate JUSTICE, especially for small vulnerable States, by providing a source and focus for that justice.
By asserting the right to a safe, secure and sustainable environment, and by demanding that all States respect and protect that right and provide ways to redress infringements upon that right; vulnerable States would be able to use the very principles upon which the United Nations was built – namely international peace and security, justice and international law, equal rights and self-determination, international cooperation, respect for human rights, and sovereign equality – as key tools to demand greater protection and assistance from the rest of the international community.
In the final analysis, the future of the Maldives and other vulnerable countries is in the hands of our brothers and sisters in the United Nations family. The Maldives refuses to believe that the countries represented in this room, especially rich developed countries, will allow small vulnerable members of the United Nations to suffer, when the solutions to climate change appear to be within their reach.
We REFUSE to accept a future in which ANY seat in this Assembly Hall would fall empty.
Thank you Mr. President.