July 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2011
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Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Impact of Climate Change

Expected Council Action
In July, the Council will hold an open debate on the impact of climate change on the maintenance of international peace and security. The executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, is expected to address the Council, and the Secretary-General may attend. Many countries are also expected to participate in the open debate.

On 17 April 2007 the Council held a high-level debate on the relationship between energy, security and climate, initiated by the UK, which held the Council presidency that month.  It was the first time the Council had addressed the potential impact of climate change on security. Some of the debate, particularly statements by non-members of the Council, focused on the compatibility of the agenda item with the mandate of the Council under the UN Charter. There was no formal outcome. Both the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of 77+China sent letters to the Council expressing concern about Council encroachment on the prerogatives of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. 

Since 2007, global concern about climate change and its implications intensified. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)—issued its assessment report, “Climate Change 2007” in November 2007, which highlighted the reality of climate change, its impact and possible consequences.

On 3 June 2009, on the initiative of the small-island developing states of the Pacific Ocean, the General Assembly held a debate on climate change and its possible security implications. At the end of the debate, the Assembly adopted a resolution inviting the relevant organs of the UN to intensify their efforts in considering and addressing climate change, including its possible security implications, within their respective mandates. It also requested the Secretary-General to submit to it a comprehensive report on the possible security implications of climate change.  

On 11 September 2009, the Secretary-General presented his report to the General Assembly. The report identified climate change as a “threat multiplier” that exacerbates existing threats, such as persistent poverty, weak institutions for resource management and mistrust between communities. It identified five further ways in which climate change might affect security:

• climate change could threaten food security and human health and increase exposure to extreme events;
• it could undermine the stability of states by slowing or reversing development;
• it could increase the likelihood of domestic conflict due to migration and depleting resources, with possible international ramifications;
• disappearance of territory might raise issues of sovereignty, rights and security; and
• international conflict might be a result of climate change’s impact on shared or demarcated international resources.

In December 2009, the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was held in Copenhagen.  The outcome document sets a goal of reducing global emissions so as to hold temperature rises to no more than 2°C but no legally binding commitments to emissions reductions to achieve that goal. It also called for the mobilisation of funds from developed to developing countries, but does not lay down specifics to achieve this end. The outcome was heavily criticised by some developing countries claiming that it did not address their needs.

The 16th session of the COP took place in Cancun, ending in December 2010 with an agreement that set up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, and created new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, but again fell short of specific legal obligations to achieve these ends.

Key Issues
A key issue is whether the Council can find common language for a statement which reflects an appropriate role that the Council can play to complement other international efforts to address climate change.  

A second issue is how to integrate analysis of the role that climate change may have in sparking or aggravating existing tensions that could lead to conflict into existing conflict-prevention analyses. A related issue is integrating long-term thinking into the Council’s work on the serious implications climate change may have on small-island states and coastal states.

Options for the Council include:

• adopting a presidential statement recognising the interrelations between climate change and security issues;
• calling upon the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the relationship between climate change and peace and security and a mechanism for evaluating the possible impact of climate change as a trigger of conflict in current and future conflict and post-conflict situations;
• noting the need to integrate climate change dimensions, where they exist, into peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities in situations on the Council’s agenda; or
• taking no action at this time.

Council Dynamics
Germany, with the strong support of Portugal, has initiated this open debate. Germany will circulate a concept note prior to the debate and would like to focus on two sub-topics. The first is the rising sea level and its impact on coastal and small island states, from the loss of coastal territory to the disappearance of certain islands completely. The second is threats to food security due to climate change and its effects on peace and security.

Several countries on the Council are supportive of having a second debate on this issue. They view it as an opportunity for the Council, as part of the UN system, to discuss the relevance of climate change to its mandate under the Charter, as called for by the General Assembly. They are, however, prudent about the need for the Council to be seen to be cautious and not as overstepping its boundaries and undermining other processes, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They see a modest outcome from the debate as consistent with the cautious approach and are hoping to reach consensus on some concrete steps that can be taken by the Council and on having this topic on the Council’s agenda again in the future.

Some NAM and Group of 77+China countries are still concerned with the Council engaging on an issue that, even given its security dimensions, is not in their view principally part of the Council’s responsibility under the UN Charter, and is the focus of other UN organs and entities. Brazil, for example, has argued that there is no direct link established between climate change and peace and security and that social and economic development provides adequate tools to tackle climate change’s impact. However, the members are also conscious that there are now a number of NAM and G-77 countries which strongly support the Council giving attention to the issue..

There is growing understanding that specific conflicts may have climate change related aspects.

Compared to the impression left four years ago, there seems to be less resistance to having the debate on the Council’s agenda, as is evident by the name given to the agenda item itself, linking climate change to security issues. Some members think that this may be due to the fact that since the debate in 2007, more scientific evidence has been produced on the long-term ramifications of climate change and some have linked recent conflicts to the rising prices of basic foodstuffs and diminishing water resources.

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UN Documents

Press Statement

SC/9000 (17 April 2007) was a statement issued following the debate on energy, security and climate containing divergent views on the relevance of the agenda item to the Council’s mandate.

Meeting Record

S/PV.5663 and S/PV.5663 Resumption 1 (17 April 2007) was the debate on energy, security and climate.

Secretary-General’s Report

A/64/350  (11 September 2009) was the report addressed to the General Assembly on climate change and its possible security implications.


S/2007/211 (16 April 2007) was sent by the Group of 77 and China to the president of the Council on their concerns regarding the Council’s involvement in matters of climate change.
S/2007/203 (13 April 2007) was sent by NAM to the president of the Council on their concerns regarding the Council’s involvement in matters of climate change.
• S/2007/186 (5 April 2007) was the letter sent from the UK to the president of the Council containing its concept note for the debate on energy, security and climate.

Selected General Assembly Resolution

A/RES/63/281 (3 June 2009) invited UN organs to consider the issue of climate change within their mandates.

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