Climate Change and Food Insecurity
Expected Council Action
In February, Guyana plans to convene a high-level open debate on “The impact of climate change and food insecurity on the maintenance of international peace and security” as the signature event of its presidency. President Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana will chair the meeting. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will make remarks, while Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, and a civil society representative are the anticipated briefers.
Key Recent Developments
On 3 August 2023, the Council held a ministerial-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity at the initiative of the US. The briefers were Reena Ghelani, United Nations Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator; David Miliband, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee; and Navyn Salem, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Edesia, a global non-profit that combats global malnutrition. All three highlighted the interconnections among climate change, food insecurity and conflict. Ghelani maintained that: “Conflict-induced hunger is compounded by a toxic mix of climate change and economic shocks.” She added that addressing the climate and economic crises is necessary to promote lasting peace and prevent famine. Miliband observed that conflict is a major cause of food insecurity, which is worsened by climate change, and advocated for more climate financing to be directed to conflict-affected states. Salem said: “The two biggest contributing factors to hunger and malnutrition are climate change and conflict.”
As the outcome of the open debate, the Council adopted a presidential statement authored by the US that “reiterate[d] the need to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity”, noting that armed conflict in 2022 was the most significant driver of acute food insecurity for roughly 117 million people in 19 countries and territories. Echoing resolution 2417 of May 2018 on conflict and hunger, the statement condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival. The statement recognised that—in addition to armed conflict—economic downturns, gender inequalities, biodiversity loss, drought, and the adverse effects of climate change are among the key factors reversing the gains in fighting global hunger.
On 11 January, Council members that had previously joined the joint pledges related to climate, peace and security—France, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America—welcomed the new pledgers Guyana, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Slovenia in a joint stakeout. Through the pledges, these countries have committed to striving for the systematic integration of climate change, peace and security into the Council’s work.
The stakeout was held just prior to the Council’s briefing and consultations that day on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel and the activities of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). As a part of the stakeout, the pledgers issued a statement “express[ing] deep concern regarding the severe adverse impacts of climate change on peace and security in West Africa and the Sahel and call[ing] for urgent action”. In this regard, they argued that: “Conflict-sensitive climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience actions backed by related funding are an important lever for peacebuilding and social cohesion in the sub-region.”
The Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Climate Change, Peace and Security, currently co-chaired by Mozambique and Switzerland, met on 26 January to discuss the implications of climate change on the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Leonardo Santos Simão briefed. Simão reportedly spoke about how climate change generates competition over natural resources and increases social tensions in the region. He also highlighted that water security is a key challenge in West Africa and the Sahel.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council is to develop an enhanced understanding of the interlinkages between climate change and food insecurity as well as strategies to sustain the Council’s engagement on this issue.
One option would be for Guyana to draft a chair’s summary that captures the key points of the meeting and to circulate it as a UN document.
Another option would be for those members that have joined the pledges related to climate, peace and security to conduct further joint stakeouts to highlight the interlinkages among climate change, food insecurity and conflict in conflict-affected regions where they are most prevalent.
Over time, the Council could consider entry points for introducing and refining language, where relevant, into mandates that address the security implications of climate-related food scarcity.
Most Council members are supportive of the body’s work on climate change, peace and security. This is reflected by the fact that ten current members have joined the joint pledges on climate change, peace and security. Of members that entered the Council in 2024, Guyana, ROK, Sierra Leone and Slovenia are particularly strong advocates of Council involvement on this file, although Sierra Leone has yet to sign on to the joint pledges. Among the permanent members, France, the UK, and the US are currently supportive of the agenda, while China and Russia have strong reservations, expressing concerns that climate change is primarily a development issue that does not generally fall within the Council’s mandated responsibilities.
The difficult Council dynamics on climate change, peace and security have prevented the adoption of a thematic outcome on this issue in recent years; the sole such product issued was a short presidential statement in 2011. In contrast, the Council has adopted one resolution and two presidential statements on conflict and food insecurity, all since 2018.
In its 3 August 2023 presidential statement on conflict and hunger, the Council was able to include language recognising the relationship between climate change and food insecurity in conflict situations following difficult negotiations. In this regard, the Council recognised that climate change, environmental degradation, ecological changes, and natural disasters adversely impact food security, water scarcity and livelihoods and stressed the need for long-term strategies to support stability and build resilience. An agreement on having such language in the presidential statement was reached after amendments from then-Council member Brazil and China were included acknowledging the importance of implementing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.
Mozambique and Switzerland are the co-chairs of the IEG on Climate Change, Peace and Security, while Guyana and Switzerland are the Council’s focal points on conflict and food security.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CLIMATE CHANGE, PEACE AND SECURITY AND FOOD INSECURITY RESOLUTION
|Security Council Resolution
|24 May 2018S/RES/2417
|This was a resolution on the link between armed conflict and food insecurity. It strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, as well as the unlawful denial of humanitarian access.
|Security Council Presidential Statements
|3 August 2023S/PRST/2023/4
|This presidential statement on conflict and hunger included highlighting the role of regional and subregional organisations in preventing famine and conflict-induced food insecurity and malnutrition.
|29 April 2020S/PRST/2020/6
|This was a presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger following up on measures laid out in resolution 2417, with an additional element on early warning systems.
|20 July 2011S/PRST/2011/15
|This was a presidential statement on climate change.
|Security Council Meeting Record
|13 June 2023S/PV.9345
|The meeting record is on climate change, peace and security.