Research Report

The UN Security Council and Climate Change

To view the full report, please download the PDF here.

At the outset of the Security Council’s 23 February 2021 open debate on climate and security, world-renowned naturalist David Attenborough delivered a video message urging global cooperation to tackle the climate crisis. “If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security—food production; access to fresh water; habitable, ambient temperatures; and ocean food chains”, he said. Later, he added, “Please make no mistake. Climate change is the biggest threat to security that humans have ever faced.”

Such warnings have become common. And while the magnitude of this challenge is widely accepted, it is not clear if the global community, in particular the major carbon-emitting states, will show the level of commitment needed to reduce carbon emissions enough to stave off the more dire predictions of climate modellers.

While climate mitigation and adaptation measures are within the purview of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and contributions to such measures are outlined in the Paris Agreement, many Security Council members view climate change as a security threat worthy of the Council’s attention. Other members do not. One of the difficulties in considering whether or not the Council should play a role (and a theme of this report) is that there are different interpretations of what is appropriate for the Security Council to do in discharging its Charter-given mandate to maintain international peace and security.