Climate Change and Security
Expected Council Action
In January 2019, the Security Council will hold an open debate addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security. President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic is expected to chair the meeting, which will also include the participation of several member states at ministerial level.
Key Recent Developments
On 2 December 2018, Secretary-General António Guterres opened the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP 24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice, Poland. He made four key points: the science on climate change “demands a significantly more ambitious response”; the Paris Agreement must be implemented; a collective responsibility exists “to invest in averting global climate chaos, to consolidate the financial commitments made in Paris and to assist the most vulnerable communities and nations”; and momentum around climate action must be galvanised through an inclusive approach that mobilises technology and political will. He emphasised the urgency of the situation: “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change. Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late”.
COP 24 concluded on 14 December 2018. It resulted in an agreement to enhance transparency in sharing information about states’ plans to decrease emissions and to increase financial support for developing countries to address climate change. Agreement on “carbon trading”, which permits the exchange of emissions allotments among states, could not be reached and is expected to be discussed again at next year’s COP meeting.
A report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in November 2018 found that global warming is expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels “between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate” with heightened “risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth”.
Since early 2017, there has been an increase in the Security Council’s consideration of climate change-related security issues. Resolution 2349 of 31 March 2017 emphasised the need for adequate risk assessments and management strategies by governments and the UN relating to the adverse security effects of climate and ecological factors in the Lake Chad Basin. Subsequently, outcomes on several other African issues—the UN Office for Central Africa, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Mali, Somalia, and Sudan (Darfur)—have incorporated language on climate and security, largely drawn from resolution 2349.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues that may be raised by member states during this Security Council debate include:
- the need to enhance understanding about the security implications of climate change-related natural disasters;
- the need for member states to develop improved risk assessment and mitigation strategies for such disasters;
- the importance of developing the analytical capacities of the UN system to assess climate change-related security threats, provide the Security Council with useful information about these threats, and support states in developing and implementing actionable plans to address them;
- the importance of developing synergies among states, regional and sub-regional organisations, and the UN system in managing and mitigating climate change-related security risks; and
- the need to determine how the Security Council, the peace operations it mandates, and UN Country Teams can best collaborate to address such risks.
Options that can be pursued by Council members at the present time include:
- requesting a briefing from representatives of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction on climate change-related security threats resulting from natural disasters, including early warning measures that can be pursued and strategies to mitigate the potential security impacts of such disasters; and
- calling, in their interventions, on member states to fulfil commitments made in the Paris agreement and at COP 24 in Katowice.
Over the longer term, the Council might consider expanding its efforts to request risk assessment and mitigation strategies by member states and the UN system in outcomes in relevant country- and region-specific cases.
Having taken the initiative to hold this debate, the Dominican Republic could consider preparing a chair’s summary to capture the main elements of the discussion.
Perhaps most fundamental over the long term is what the end objective of Council engagement on this issue should be. The Council currently focuses on the symptoms of climate change but does not address its underlying causes. It seems important for members to consider whether the Council could usefully and appropriately take other precise steps in tackling climate-related risks to peace and security, in addition to calling for enhanced reporting and for better risk assessment and mitigation strategies. Some member states—including incoming member Belgium—have advocated for the appointment of a special representative on climate change. If such a position comes into being, or a focal point were created in the Secretariat on this issue, that person could provide the Secretary-General with ideas for how the Security Council can most effectively deal with climate change-related security issues within the context of efforts pursued by the broader UN system, national governments, and regional organisations.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The question of whether the Council is an appropriate body to discuss climate change has been raised ever since 17 April 2007, when the Council held its first open debate to discuss possible implications of climate change for international peace and security. Russia and some G77 states have expressed concern that the Council’s engagement on this matter encroaches on the prerogatives of other UN entities, which they maintain are better equipped to deal with the issue. While not expressing the same level of criticism about Council involvement, China and the US also have shown some ambivalence. Other Council members strongly support Council engagement, including permanent members France and the UK, which spearheaded the original Council debate of April 2007. In this regard, France and the UK co-led with Senegal the Council’s March 2017 visit to the Lake Chad Basin, which enhanced members’ understanding of the negative impact of climate change on the security situation in the region and led to the adoption of resolution 2349. Elected members, such as incoming Council members Belgium, the Dominican Republic, and Germany, have signalled their deep interest in pursuing in the Council the connection of climate change to international security. Among the wider membership, several small island developing states have noted that for them, the impacts of climate change represent an existential threat.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CLIMATE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Resolution|
|31 March 2017S/RES/2349||This was on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|20 July 2011S/PRST/2011/15||This was a presidential statement on climate change.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|11 July 2018S/PV.8307||This was a debate on climate-related security risks chaired by Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.|
|20 July 2011S/PV.6587||This was an open debate on the impact of climate change organised by Germany.|
|17 April 2007S/PV.5663||This was a debate on energy, security and climate organised by the UK.|
|Security Council Letter|
|30 July 2018S/2018/749||This was a letter summarising the ideas expressed during the 11 July debate on “Understanding and addressing climate-related security risks”.|