February 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2023
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Sea-Level Rise

Expected Council Action  

In February, the Security Council will convene a ministerial-level open debate on sea-level rise and its implications for international peace and security, one of the signature events of the Maltese Presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres and Ambassador Csaba Körösi (Hungary), the President of the UN General Assembly, are among the briefers. Malta’s Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade Ian Borg is expected to chair the meeting. No formal outcome is anticipated.


Since the Security Council first discussed climate change, peace and security at the thematic level in April 2007, Council members, other member states, and Secretariat officials have frequently raised the security threat of rising sea levels in open debates and other public Council meetings. In particular, they often note the existential threat rising sea levels pose to many small island developing states. They have also observed that sea-level rise can cause displacement, destroy infrastructure, and undermine livelihoods. 

On 20 July 2011, the Council adopted its only formal outcome on climate change, peace and security, a presidential statement drafted by Germany that said the negative effects of climate change could in the long run exacerbate some existing threats to international peace and security. Among its other elements, the presidential statement expressed concern that “possible security implications of loss of territory of some States caused by sea-level-rise may arise, in particular in small low-lying island States”.  

In July 2015, the Security Council held an  open debate on “Peace and Security Challenges Facing Small Island Developing States”, convened by New Zealand. The meeting focused on such issues as transnational crime and piracy, the illicit exploitation of natural resources, and climate change. Then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi of Samoa, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica, and Jean-Paul Adam, Finance Minister of Seychelles, briefed during the meeting. In his briefing, Ban asserted, “Rising sea levels, dying coral reefs and the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters exacerbate the conditions leading to community displacement and migration. They threaten to increase tensions over resources and affect domestic and regional stability”. 

Council members have held two Arria-formula meetings on the adverse effects of sea-level rise, on 10 April 2017 and 18 October 2021. The first, on “Security Implications of Climate Change: Sea-Level Rise”, was organised by Ukraine in cooperation with Germany. The briefers were Ambassador Harald Braun, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN; former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin; and Major General Munir Muniruzzaman, the President of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies. The briefers noted that rising sea levels place the existence of small island states in jeopardy, risk undermining the livelihoods of populations in low-lying areas, and may adversely affect the stability of states through large-scale transborder migration.  

The second Arria-formula meeting, on “Sea-Level Rise and Implications for International Peace and Security”, was organised by Viet Nam, Ireland, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tunisia and 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 briefers noted that climate change and sea-level rise are becoming increasingly grave challenges to the physical integrity of states and the security and livelihoods of their people. Pasisi called for enhanced and more easily accessible international financing for climate adaption and resilience for Pacific Island states, as well as legal protections for people displaced by climate change.  

Council members most recently met to discuss climate change at the thematic level on 29 November 2022, convening an Arria-formula meeting on “Climate, Peace and Security: Opportunities for the UN Peace and Security Architecture”. Kenya and Norway (then co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security) co-convened the meeting with Albania, France, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Germany and Nauru (the co-chairs of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security) and then-incoming Council members Malta, Mozambique and Switzerland also co-sponsored the session. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča was the keynote speaker. Also making remarks were three panel discussants: Mely Caballero-Anthony, professor of international relations and president’s chair of international relations and security studies at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (virtual participation); Hafsa Maalim, associate senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); and Michael Keating, executive director of the European Institute of Peace (EIP) (virtual participation). Several briefers and Council members noted the importance of integrating climate action into efforts to build and sustain peace. Many members also called on donor countries to enhance climate financing for developing countries during the meeting.  

Key Issues and Options  

One key issue is how to promote a better understanding among members states of sea-level rise as a threat to international peace and security. This could include: 

  • enhancing awareness of the threat that rising sea levels pose to the physical existence of small island developing states,  
  • exploring the ways in which coastal erosion and infrastructure damage resulting from rising sea levels undermine livelihoods and create socio-economic tensions; and  
  • discussing the potential for rising sea levels to lead to widespread displacement that can adversely affect international peace and security.  

Another key issue concerns the practical policy measures that could be employed to address the multi-faceted risks of rising sea levels. In this regard, the Council could discuss how coastal communities and small island developing states can most effectively adapt and build resilience to the negative effects of sea level rise.

An additional issue is how the Council can encourage and collaborate with other UN entities, regional and sub-regional organisations, and civil society actors to address security risks resulting from rising sea levels, including by supporting policies that build climate resilience and adaptation. 

One possible option would be to invite one or more representatives from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Peacebuilding Commission, or the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to brief on policies and activities addressing sea-level rise and on ways in which synergies can be created among different parts of the UN system in this regard.   

Another possible option after the debate would be for Malta to compile and disseminate a summary of the statements as an official UN document, highlighting the key points of the meeting.   

Council Dynamics 

Members continue to recognise the severity of the climate crisis and emphasise the need for global action to address this crisis. While united over the need to combat climate change, members continue to be divided over whether the Security Council should play a role in this respect and under what circumstances. Most Council members—including many of the new members (Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland)—support Council involvement. Nonetheless, differences remain. China, Russia, and Brazil have traditionally had concerns about the Council’s approach to climate change, which they view as primarily a sustainable development issue rather than a threat to international peace and security. These members consistently express concerns about Council encroachment on other UN entities and processes—most notably the UNFCCC—that are designed to deal with the adverse effects of climate change.  

During this month’s open debate, members are likely to emphasise the threat that rising sea levels represent for the survival of small island developing states. They may also discuss the importance of supporting adaptation and resilience measures for small island developing states and other developing countries with low-lying coastal areas. The importance of promoting climate adaptation and resilience through peacebuilding and climate financing—a prevalent theme in Council discussions in 2022—may remain a focus of Council meetings on climate change in 2023. Some members may also discuss the negative effects of rising sea levels on human security in this month’s debate.   

Mozambique, Switzerland, and the UAE are the co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security.   

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Security Council Presidential Statements
20 July 2011S/PRST/2011/15 This was a presidential statement on climate change.
Security Council Meeting Records
30 July 2015S/PV.7499 The Council held an open debate on the peace and security challenges facing small island developing states.
13 December 2021S/2021/990 This was the draft resolution in blue on climate and security. The draft resolution failed to be adopted because of a veto from Russia. It received 12 votes in favour, two against (India and Russia) and one abstention (China). The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 113 member states.