What's In Blue

Arria Formula Meeting on Climate Change

Tomorrow morning (15 February) Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant (UK) and Ambassador Masood Khan (Pakistan) will co-chair an Arria formula meeting on the “Security Dimensions of Climate Change”. It seems that the aim of the debate is to have an interactive and frank session on how climate change can negatively impact the maintenance of international peace and security and to highlight the security implications of intensified climate change. The co-chairs are hoping that the discussion will also touch on possible steps that could be taken to move from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make remarks at the start of the meeting. This will be followed by presentations from a panel of speakers that includes the Honorable Mr. Tony deBrum, Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands; Professor Hans Schellnhuber, Head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research; Ms. Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice-President for Sustainable Development; and Mr. Gyan Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states. Following these presentations, Security Council members, other member states and civil society participants are also expected to make their interventions.

A concept paper was circulated earlier this month to help guide the discussion. It outlines some of the security challenges and highlights key issues that could be taken up during the meeting. For example, it notes that climate change can worsen threats created by poverty and poor management of resources. It also points out that climate change could eventually make citizens residing in low lying small island states “stateless”, thus raising a number of legal issues. Finally, the paper asks if there are ways to enhance cooperation to manage shared water resources more effectively given growing water scarcity, and whether current mechanisms to curtail competition over natural resources can be strengthened.

The Council has held two previous debates on the security implications of climate change. The first was held in April 2007 (S/PV.5663), under the UK presidency, and considered the relationship between energy, security and climate. At the time a number of Council members had reservations about holding the debate on the grounds that it was unclear whether or not climate change could usefully be addressed within the Council’s mandate and there was no attempt to have a formal outcome.

The second debate (S/PV.6587), held in July 2011 under the German presidency, was on the impact of climate change on peace and security. Although negotiations were difficult Council members were able to agree on a presidential statement (S//PRST/2011/15) which highlighted that rising sea-levels may carry security implications for low-lying island states. The presidential statement also requested the Secretary-General to ensure that his reports to the Council on peace and security matters contain contextual information on possible security implications of climate change.

Including climate change on its agenda has been quite a contentious issue for the Council. There are still some members who are less comfortable with the Council making decisions on an issue that they are not convinced is an explicit threat to peace and security.

An Arria formula meeting perhaps provides an opportunity to pursue this issue in an informal format that allows Council members to hear the views of a diverse and informed group with a stake in the issue. Among the permanent members, France, the UK, and the US have argued that the Council is an appropriate forum to discuss threats to international peace and security related to climate change. In effect, they see the Council’s efforts to address climate change as a part of its conflict prevention efforts.

However, China and Russia have a different position, having argued that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is the appropriate venue within the UN system for deliberations on this issue. Of the new Council members, Australia and Luxembourg in particular have shown concern about the security threats posed by climate change and believe that it is an issue that the Council should address.

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