United Nations Security Council
Open Debate on “Threats to international peace and security:
Sea-level rise: implications for international peace and security”
New York, 14 February 2023
The Holy See thanks Malta for holding this open debate, which recognizes the threat that climate change poses to peace and security.
As Pope Francis has observed, “the world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.” This is especially true regarding sea-level rise, which mainly affects “impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go.”
The negative effects of rising seas appear long before lands are submerged, as evidenced by coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion of aquifers, soil salinization and flooding of critical infrastructure. Of particular concern is the potential seawater infiltration of low-lying nuclear power plants and repositories containing radioactive waste from nuclear weapons testing, such as on Runit Island, which could contaminate widespread areas, including flora and fauna upon which local populations depend for subsistence.
Such threats require timely climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Often, however, affected States lack the means to adopt such measures. To address this, developed States, which have disproportionately contributed to climate change, ought to make financing more easily accessible to coastal States, especially small island developing States (SIDs), so that they can adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, foster climate resilience and respond to loss and damage.
Sea-level rise can increase water scarcity, food insecurity and poverty, threatening social structures that depend on the local environment and shape cultural identity, especially for indigenous communities. As a result, many of those affected have no choice but to flee their homes. These climate migrants, however, “are not recognized by international conventions as refugees” and do not enjoy “any legal protection whatsoever”. While the Global Compact on Migration calls on States to develop solutions for migrants displaced due to sea level rise, the international community must do more to clarify where, and on what legal basis, affected populations can relocate across borders.
Eventually, sea-level rise will likely submerge the entire territories of some States. This Council has rightly expressed concern at the security implications of such a scenario, which raises legal issues concerning self-determination, maritime borders and statelessness. Ensuring the protection of affected persons requires greater clarity as to whether such States retain their sovereignty and on the practical implications of this.
The threat of sea-level rise appeals to “our responsibility to promote, through collective and joint commitment, a culture of care, which places human dignity and the common good at the center”. States have the duty to promote “changes of lifestyle, production and consumption,” to reduce the drivers of climate change and to limit the resulting environmental degradation and human suffering.
I thank you, Madam President.
 Pope Francis, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, 1 September 2016.
 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 48.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 25.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 52.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 145.
 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 25.
 Statement by the President of the Security Council, 20 July 2011, S/PRST/2011/15.
 Pope Francis, Video Message for the High Level Virtual Climate Ambition Summit 2020, 12 December 2020.
 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, 2015, 23.