The Impact of Environmental Degradation on Peace and Security
Expected Council Action
In September, Niger plans to hold a ministerial-level open debate on the humanitarian impact of environmental degradation on peace and security. The focus will be on the Sahel region, although participants are also encouraged to broaden the geographical scope of the discussion. The President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Ibrahim Thiaw, and Earth Ambassador, artist and activist, Inna Modja will brief. No formal outcome is anticipated at this time.
Key Recent Developments
The Council has discussed a number of other issues related to the environment in recent years, such as ways in which the illegal exploitation of natural resources can degrade the environment, the management of trans-boundary waters, and most prominently, the security implications of climate change.
Two Arria-formula meetings have been held on the protection of the environment in armed conflict in the last two years. The first, on 7 November 2018, was co-hosted by Kuwait and Germany; the second, on 9 December 2019, by Estonia, Germany, Kuwait, and Peru. Several common themes were emphasised in these meetings: the need to hold accountable those that damage the environment in armed conflict, the importance of respecting the civilian nature of the environment, and the need for UN peacekeeping operations to promote a light environmental footprint.
During a visiting mission to the Lake Chad region in March 2017, interlocutors such as Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou and Nigerian Vice-President
Yemi Osinbajo highlighted how climate change had negatively affected the security situation in the region. President Issoufou told Council members that he did not believe that the rebel group Boko Haram would have “taken root” without the shrinking of Lake Chad, which had a devastating effect on local livelihoods.
Since that visiting mission, the need for risk assessments and management strategies with regard to the destabilising effects of climate change and other ecological factors has been incorporated into Council outcomes on the Lake Chad region, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Central Africa more broadly, West Africa and the Sahel, and Sudan as well as in the thematic resolution that the Council adopted on “Silencing the Guns in Africa” in February 2019. In renewing the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in December 2019, the Council also recognised the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and other factors on the stability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and welcomed the “leadership of the DRC in the development of national strategies to address these issues”. During the current year alone, climate-security language has been integrated into two presidential statements on West Africa and the Sahel, the reauthorisation of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the resolution establishing the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), and the resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
On 24 July, Security Council members held a ministerial-level open debate on “climate and security” in an open videoconference (VTC) format. The debate was co-sponsored by ten Council members: Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, the UK, and Viet Nam. Briefers included Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas; Colonel Mahamadou Seidou Magagi of Niger, Director of the Centre National d’Études Stratégiques et de Sécurité (CNESS-Niger); and Coral Pasisi of Niue, Director of the Sustainable Pacific Consultancy.
Jenča spoke about the ways climate change exacerbates the risk of conflict in different regions. With regard to the Lake Chad Basin, he said that “insecurity and governance challenges have impeded climate adaptation efforts, affecting livelihoods, social cohesion, and ultimately human security, which Boko Haram has proven adept at exploiting”.
Magagi described the negative impacts of climate change on peace and security in the Sahel region. He maintained that weather changes and natural disasters have diminished resources such as water and land for pasture, sparking increased conflict between herders and farmers in countries and regions such as Niger, northern Nigeria and central Mali. He also referred to a 2019 survey by CNESS-Niger that found that “the successive floods of 2012 and 2013 boosted Boko Haram recruitment as young people who lost their crops turned to the extremist movement as an alternative”.
Pasisi spoke about the adverse effects of climate change on Pacific Small Island Developing States. She said that without strong mitigation and adaptation measures “saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion and coral reef degradation” could lead to the forced “displacement and migration of thousands of people and cause huge loss and damage”.
On 15 July, Council members held an open VTC, followed by a closed VTC, on the FSO Safer oil tanker moored off Ras Isa, Yemen. Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Inger Andersen and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock provided the briefings. Andersen said that “an oil spill or an explosion would have a massive impact on the livelihoods and the health of the people relying on the area’s natural resources, including fisheries”. Lowcock updated members on negotiations with the Houthi rebels to permit a technical mission led by the UN to conduct an assessment of the ship and make initial repairs.
Following the 4 August explosion in Beirut that claimed at least 181 lives, the World Health Organization and the American University in Beirut undertook an environmental assessment and developed guidance regarding steps the public could take to protect itself from the pollutants resulting from the blast. This information was disseminated on social media.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues that could be discussed in the meeting include:
- the need to enhance understanding of the humanitarian and security implications of environmental degradation and climate change;
- the importance of developing the analytical capacities of the UN system to assess the connections between environmental degradation and humanitarian and security risks; and
- what role the Security Council can play in addressing this issue and how it can develop synergies with other UN entities in doing so.
Niger could consider producing a chair’s summary capturing the main elements of the debate. Given that many Council members believe that the Council has a role to play in addressing the security implications of environmental issues, another option is for these members to continue to work together to highlight such non-traditional threats to peace and security during their Council presidencies. Council members could continue to learn about environmental challenges in specific conflict situations—as was done in the July meeting on the Safer oil tanker—and discuss ways of preventing environmental disasters or mitigating their impact.
Several Council members are likely to emphasise how environmental degradation can fuel violent extremism and inter-communal violence (such as between herders and farmers) and jeopardise peace consolidation efforts. They are also likely to talk about the humanitarian impacts of environmental degradation and underscore that factors such as drought, desertification, and water and food scarcity are conflict “risk-multipliers”. Other members with a more conservative view of what constitutes a threat to peace and security are likely to be more reluctant for the Council to engage on environmental issues in a thematic context, although they may be more amenable to Council involvement in specific country cases when there is evidence of a threat to peace and security.
With regard to the Safer oil tanker, there is widespread concern in the Council about the potentially devastating impact of an explosion of the tanker or large-scale oil spill.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE IMPACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION ON PEACE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 June 2020S/RES/2531||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2021.|
|3 June 2020S/RES/2524||This established the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).|
|29 May 2020S/RES/2520||This resolution renewed the AMISOM authorisation until 28 February 2021.|
|3 April 1991S/RES/687||This resolution contained the terms for Iraq of a ceasefire in the context of its invasion of Kuwait, foresaw the establishment of UNIKOM and imposed sanctions. It called for the elimination, under international supervision, of Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres, together with related items and production facilities, and called for measures to ensure that the acquisition and production of prohibited items were not resumed.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|28 July 2020S/PRST/2020/7||This presidential statement expressed concern about the potential of the COVID-19 pandemic to exacerbate existing fragilities in West Africa and the Sahel. It further urged Malian stakeholders to prioritise dialogue to resolve the current political crisis.|
|11 February 2020S/PRST/2020/2||This presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, included emphasising the need for free
and fair, credible, timely and peaceful elections during 2020 in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Togo.
|Security Council Letters|
|18 August 2020S/2020/808||This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the FSO Safer oil tanker.|
|17 July 2020S/2020/721||This letter circulated the statements from the open part of the Council special session held by VTC on the FSO Safer oil tanker.|