Climate and Security
Expected Council Action
In July, the Council will hold a debate on climate-related security risks. Expected briefers include a senior Secretariat official, a representative of a member state facing climate-related security challenges, and a civil society representative.
Sweden, which is chairing the debate, may produce a summary to capture the key elements of the discussion.
Key Recent Developments
The Council is increasingly being exposed to evidence of the linkages between climate change and security, and has taken some steps in recent years to reflect these linkages in its work. During a visiting mission to the Lake Chad region in March 2017, Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou told members that he did not believe that Boko Haram would have “taken root” without the shrinking of Lake Chad, which has lost 90 percent of its surface area since the 1960s with a devastating effect on local livelihoods. Shortly after this visiting mission, the Council adopted resolution 2349, which addressed the multi-faceted dimensions of the Boko Haram conflict. Among its many elements, the resolution recognised the “adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the Region, including through water scarcity, drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity, and emphasise[d] the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies by governments and the United Nations relating to these factors”.
During a briefing on 22 March, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; a representative of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, Mohammed Bila; and Chitra Nagarajan, a senior conflict advisor with the think tank and public policy consultancy Adelphi, briefed the Council on the root causes of conflict in the Lake Chad region. All three briefers noted the adverse security-related impact of climate change in the region. Bila and Nagarajan, in particular, emphasised the need for the Council to receive improved analysis of climate-induced risk factors to help inform its work.
In January, the Council adopted a presidential statement that addressed activities undertaken by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) with regard to conflict prevention, mediation, and good offices and welcomed the efforts of countries in the region to combat terrorism and transnational crime. The statement used language from resolution 2349 that recognised the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of West Africa and Sahel, thus reflecting the security implications of these factors for the region.
In recent years, other Council members, in addition to Sweden, have also chosen to use their presidency of the Security Council to address the link between climate and security. New Zealand convened an open debate on 30 July 2015 on the “peace and security challenges facing small island developing states”, which included a discussion of climate-related security threats. On 22 November 2016, Senegal held an open debate on “water, peace and security”, which explored such issues as the relationship between climate change and water scarcity, the management of transboundary waters, and the harmful impact that conflict can have on access to clean water. Japan chaired an open debate on 20 December 2017 on the theme “addressing complex contemporary challenges to international peace and security” that included a discussion of climate change, among other issues.
In 2017, there were also two Arria-formula meetings on climate change. On 10 April, a meeting organised by Ukraine, with cooperation from Germany in preparing the session, focused on the security implications of sea level rise. The second meeting, held on 15 December, was co-organised by a wide array of Council members and other member states and focussed on the theme of “preparing for security implications of rising temperatures”.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue is how this debate can contribute to advancing the Council’s engagement with climate change. Producing a chair’s summary could provide useful suggestions for future action. Over the longer term, members could focus on integrating the issue into the Council’s work by having climate-related security risks incorporated into all relevant outcomes (resolutions and presidential statements). The language in recent outcomes on the Lake Chad Basin and UNOWAS could serve as useful precedents.
Another important matter is how to improve the analysis that the Council receives on how and where climate-related factors are a driver of conflict and insecurity. In its 2011 presidential statement on climate change, the Council called for conflict analysis and contextual information on the possible security implications of climate change in the reports of the Secretary-General. Consequently, one option is for members to advocate for enhanced analysis and information on this issue from the Secretariat, the provision of which has been limited to date.
Perhaps most fundamental over the long term is what the end objective of Council engagement on this issue should be, as the Council currently focuses on the symptoms of climate change but does not address its underlying causes. The Council plays an important role in political messaging, and it could galvanise increased attention around the security implications of climate change. It seems important for Council members to consider what other precise steps the body could take in tackling the linkages between climate change and peace and security and how the Council’s efforts in this regard would relate to those of other parts of the UN system, as well as those of national and regional actors. Some member states—including Belgium, which has been elected to serve on the Council in 2019-2020—have advocated the appointment of a special envoy on climate change. If such a position comes into being, the individual appointed could generate ideas for the Security Council’s role in dealing with climate change within the context of efforts pursued by the broader UN system, national governments, and regional organisations.
Council and Wider Dynamics
During the past decade, it has been a matter of some controversy whether or not the Council is an appropriate body to discuss climate change. China, Russia and other countries have expressed concern that the Council’s engagement on this matter encroaches on the prerogatives of other UN organs, notably the General Assembly and ECOSOC. Nevertheless, in recent years, a growing number of UN member states, both inside and outside the Council, have underscored the security risks of climate change. Despite the political tensions associated with addressing climate change, the Council has over time managed to engage with this issue in open debates, in other formal meetings covering a wide range of emerging threats to peace and security, in outcomes such as resolution 2349, and in Arria-formula meetings.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CLIMATE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Resolution|
|31 March 2017 S/RES/2349||This was on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|30 January 2018 S/PRST/2018/3||This was a presidential statement looking forward to ongoing activities undertaken by UNOWAS in the areas of conflict prevention, mediation and good offices and welcoming the regional countries’ efforts to address terrorism and transnational crime.|
|20 July 2011 S/PRST/2011/15||This was a presidential statement on climate change.|
|Security Council Letter|
|2 April 2018 S/2018/302||This was a letter from the Netherlands summarising the 22 March briefing on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|22 March 2018 S/PV.8212||This was a briefing on the root causes of the Boko Haram crisis. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed briefed the Council, as well as Mohammad Bila of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Chitra Nagarajan, a Senior Conflict Advisor at Adelphi.|
|20 December 2017 S/PV.8144||This was an open debate on “addressing complex contemporary challenges to international peace and security”. The Secretary-General covered various security challenges, including nuclear weapons, climate change, terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking, conflict prevention and women’s participation in sustaining peace.|
|22 November 2016 S/PV.7818||This was an open debate on water, peace and security.|
|30 July 2015 S/PV.7499||The Council held an open debate on the peace and security challenges facing small island developing states.|