Climate Change and Security
Expected Council Action
In December, Niger is planning to convene an open debate on “Security in the context of climate change”. Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum is expected to chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres and Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat are the anticipated briefers. Ambassador Mamman Nuhu, the Executive Director of the Lake Chad Basin Authority and Head of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), might brief as well.
Key Recent Developments
In recent months, the Security Council has focussed considerable attention on the negative security implications of climate change. On 23 September, the Council held a high-level open debate on the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security”. Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin chaired the meeting. Guterres and Ilwad Elman, the chief operating officer of the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, briefed. During the meeting, Guterres emphasised that “climate change and environmental mismanagement are risk multipliers” and that when “coping capacities are limited and there is high dependence on shrinking natural resources and ecosystem services such as water and fertile land, grievances and tensions can explode, complicating efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace”. He underscored the need for all countries to work towards preventing temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Elman said that her organisation had realised that their peacebuilding goals and mediation work “could not succeed or be sustained unless we addressed the broader environmental issues related to security — whether it be the locust- and drought-induced scarcity of resources that multiplies the threat of intraclan conflict, the decrease of tuna swarms that drives Somali fishing communities towards piracy, or the flooding that continues to drive regional displacement and vulnerable people to violent extremist groups”. She called on the UN, including the Security Council, to be receptive to bottom-up, local efforts to build resilience to the adverse effects of climate change.
An Arria-formula meeting on “Sea-Level Rise and Implications for International Peace and Security” was held on 18 October in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. Viet Nam, Ireland, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tunisia organised the meeting, which was co-sponsored by several non-Council members, including the Dominican Republic, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, and Tuvalu. The briefers were: Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari; Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I at the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assesses the physical science of climate change; and Coral Pasisi, Senior Adviser to the Director General of the Sustainable Pacific Consultancy.
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) was held in Glasgow, UK, from 31 October to 13 November. At the end of the conference, its president, British MP and former minister Alok Sharma, said that the goal of keeping global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would “only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action”. At COP26, commitments were made to cease deforestation, significantly decrease methane emissions and “phase down” the use of coal. Developed countries also reaffirmed an unfulfilled commitment to contribute $100 billion per year in climate financing to the developing world.
On 29 November, a thematic draft resolution on climate change and security spearheaded by Ireland and Niger was placed under silence. While most Council members support the draft, China, India and Russia have strong reservations about it.
Key Issues and Options
Several key issues are relevant to the Security Council’s involvement on climate change and security. These include:
- determining the best way to garner information on climate change-related security risks from the UN system and elsewhere and use this information to inform concrete strategies to address these risks;
- developing the capacity of UN peace operations to assess and manage climate-security risks; and
- developing synergies among states, regional and sub-regional organisations, grass-roots actors, and the UN system in managing and mitigating climate change-related security risks.
One option for the Council is to invite a civil society representative to the debate to brief on the adverse effects of climate change in his or her region.
Another option would be for members to discuss how the Council can engage more effectively on climate change and security matters in cases on its agenda.
Although all current members of the Council recognise that climate change poses an existential threat to human civilisation, divisions remain over the Council’s role in addressing climate and security issues. Twelve members—Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Tunisia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the UK, the US, and Viet Nam—support a more systematic integration of climate-related security risks into the Council’s work, with varying degrees of commitment. Several of these members tend to emphasise that factors such as drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, and desertification that are caused or exacerbated by climate change increase the risk of violent conflict in addition to their devastating effects on human security.
China, India and Russia are sceptical about Council engagement on this issue, especially at the thematic level. They believe that climate change is fundamentally a sustainable development issue that is more appropriately addressed by other parts of the UN system, including the General Assembly and ECOSOC. Russia has expressed concern that focusing on climate change diverts the Council’s attention from more traditional security threats.
Looking ahead, Albania, Gabon, Ghana, and the UAE—four of the five members entering the Council in 2022—are strong proponents of Council engagement on this issue. The fifth, Brazil, is wary of a Council role on this thematic issue.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|20 July 2011S/PRST/2011/15||This was a presidential statement on climate change.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 September 2021S/PV.8864||Was a high-level meeting on climate and security|