Dual crises will require global response warns UN Chief

The COVID-19 pandemic and the growing impact of climate change are driving gender inequalities and human rights, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has warned.

Addressing the UN Security Council debate on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace:  Contemporary Drivers of Conflict and Insecurity”, she called in global financial services firms to play a role in the global recovery and futureproofing the world against the impact of climate change.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has driven home that, in today’s world, there is no such thing as a distant crisis,” added Ms Mohammed.  “The pandemic continues to exacerbate the risks and drivers of conflict — from cross-border insecurity and climate-related threats to social unrest and democratic deficits.  Grievances and inequalities are deepening, eroding trust in authorities and institutions of all kinds, and increasing vulnerabilities.  The crisis is reversing development and peacebuilding gains, aggravating conflicts and undermining efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“It is also having a devastating impact on human rights and gender inequalities.  COVID-19 is exposing vulnerable people to new threats in pre‑existing humanitarian crises.  Parties to conflict are taking advantage of the pandemic to create or aggravate insecurity and impede medical care and other life‑saving assistance and services.”

She warned: “Women are disproportionately employed in the sectors most affected by lockdowns and are more likely than men to lack savings, social security and health coverage.  Lockdowns have also led to an alarming spike in gender-based and domestic violence.  How can we talk about peace and security when millions of women are at greatest risk in their own homes?  And we know there is a straight line between violence against women and girls, civic oppression and conflict.

“The climate emergency is a major driver of inequality, insecurity and conflict.  I have personally witnessed the links between climate and security challenges in the Sahel, the Lake Chad region, the Middle East and elsewhere.  These links include the large-scale displacement of people, competition over resources and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods that destroy homes, livelihoods and communities.  In some cases, the climate crisis threatens the very existence of nations.”

“The climate crisis is also eroding the resilience of communities and limiting the opportunities available to young people,” she added.  “In some parts of the world, it is draining away hope and risks creating a generation of disaffected young people, vulnerable to exploitation by extremists of all kinds.

“The drivers of conflict are not static — they change and evolve.  Building and sustaining peace requires addressing these root causes as they develop and interact with each other, including the emerging threats posed by the pandemic.

“Conflict, climate change and stalled progress on development reinforce each other.  But, too often, our efforts to address them are fragmented.  The challenges that we face are manifold — but so are the opportunities.”

Ms Mohammed said the pandemic has already shown that rapid change is possible, as millions of people adopt new ways of working, learning and socialising.

“As we recover, we cannot go back to the failed frameworks and systems that created the fragilities and inequalities that are being exploited by the pandemic.  We must build forward better.

“The recovery from this pandemic must prioritise resilient, inclusive and accountable institutions that foster the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, environmental sustainability and human rights.  Partnerships, including with international financial institutions, will be more important than ever.

“The recovery must also put in place solutions to prevent and protect communities from climate-related causes of conflict.  Member States and development banks should invest in early warning systems and resilience measures, particularly in States affected by conflict.  Countries at greatest risk should be able to use new technologies and remote sensing to help them with forecasting and prevention.”