Speech at High-Level Presidential Discussion at Human Rights Council

20 June 2024

President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The top priority of the World Meteorological Organization is to protect the most fundamental right of all. The right to life.

National meteorological and hydrological services work 24/7 to save lives and livelihoods.

We are passionate about our mission.

And we are very good at our jobs.

Better weather forecasts and improvement disaster risk management mean that we have slashed the death toll from extreme weather.

But climate change threatens to undermine our progress.

The pace of climate change is accelerating quickly, and it affects everyone, everywhere.

As the authoritative voice of weather, water and climate, WMO is sounding the Red Alert.

The UN Secretary-General recently said: It’s Climate Crunch Time.

We are getting ever closer to the 1.5° C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The world celebrated when the UN Human Rights Council passed a landmark resolution in 2021. This confirmed that a healthy environment is a human right.

It marked a watershed moment in the fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.

But the time for celebration has passed.

The climate crisis is THE defining challenge that humanity faces. It is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis.

It has cascading impacts on food security, population displacement and migration, health, energy, water.

Every single one of the Sustainable Development Goals is affected.

Sea-level rise is threatening the very existence of small island developing states. It is displacing communities, contaminating water supplies, disrupting marine ecosystems.

Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones cause untold suffering every year.

They undermine multiple human rights.

The recent floods in East Africa and Brazil, the scorching heat in South Asia and North Africa, and the acute drought in southern Africa and Central America are yet another tragic reminder of this.

And, as always, vulnerable populations are hit hardest.

The WMO issues annual State of the Climate reports.

These highlight the socio-economic impacts of climate change and extreme weather, with input from the International Organization, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and more.

2023 was the warmest year on record. That trend continues in 2024.

Displacement: Weather and climate change impacts trigger new, prolonged, and secondary displacement. They increase the vulnerability of people who were already uprooted by conflict and violence.

At the end of 2023, almost 3 in 4 forcibly displaced people were living in countries with high-to-extreme exposure to climate-related hazards, according to UNHCR.

Somalia is just one example: More than 530 000 displacements were recorded related to a prolonged drought in 2023, in addition to more than 650 000 displacements primarily caused by conflict. Subsequent flooding during the October–December rainy season affected more than 2.4 million individuals, displacing over 1 million people, according to UNHCR.

Food insecurity is on the increase.

The number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million and people in 2023, according to WFP.

In 2022, 9.2% of the global population, or 735.1 million people, were undernourished.

Protracted conflicts, economic downturns, high food prices are at the root of high global food insecurity levels. This is aggravated by naturally occurring phenomena like El Niño and La Niña and long-term climate change the effects of climate and weather extremes.

In southern Africa, for example, the passage of Cyclone Freddy in February 2023 affected Madagascar, Mozambique, southern Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

Flooding inflicted severe damage on crops and the economy. The same pattern was repeated in East Africa and Brazil this year.


Climate and health are inextricable linked.

Extreme weather like floods and tropical cyclones have a cascading impact.

They destroy health facilities, kill or injure people, or accentuate water-borne diseases like cholera and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

Poor air quality causes millions of premature deaths every year.

Heat is a silent killer taking up to half a million lives a year.

Temperatures of nearly 50°C are being recorded more and more frequently. This is not livable, and hundreds of millions of people are suffering both indoors and outdoors.

Dangerous heat makes people sick and putting immense strain on hospitals, on communities, and families.

It means that schools are closed, denying children the right to education.

Climate change is sabotaging people’s health and setting back public health progress.

This is not the future we want for our children. Our children have the right to live and thrive on a sustainable and healthy planet.

The cost of climate action NOW is so much cheaper than the cost of IN-action to our future.

There is hope.

The transition to renewable energy can offer us a cleaner, healthier future. It can improve basic socio-economic rights – the right to development.

Renewable energy sources are available almost everywhere, making energy access more equitable and allowing countries to develop their economies. Currently, more than half of Africa people lack the access to electricity, but Africa continent possesses some of the world’s greatest potential for solar power generation.

Such potential holds the key to alleviate poverty and support socio-economic development.

Every dollar of investment in Renewables creates three times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Energy transition could create a total of more than 30 million jobs by 2030.

Ensuring just transition, placing the needs and rights of people at the heat of the energy transition, will be paramount to make sure no one is left behind.

WMO is committed to the UN Secretary-General’s initiative to provide Early Warnings for All by the end of 2027.

This is WMO’s single over-riding top priority.

Currently only 50% of countries worldwide report having adequate multi-hazard early warning systems.

We need to scale up and speed up.

We are motivated by the fact that our work has a human dimension. To save human lives and protect human rights.

I thank you.


Statement by

A woman smiling in front of a flag.
Celeste Saulo, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization
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