Climate-related Security Risks Debate
Tomorrow (11 July), the Security Council will hold a debate on climate-related security risks. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Margot Wallström, will chair the debate. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Hindou Ibrahim of the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change; and the Minister of Water Resources of Iraq, Hassan Janabi, are expected to give briefings. While no outcome is envisioned, it is anticipated that Sweden will produce a chair’s summary of the meeting.
A concept note prepared by Sweden for the debate suggests that the meeting could provide members with an opportunity to “reflect on how climate-related security risks are affecting and may affect the stability and security of countries and regions”. The meeting is foreseen as both a stock-taking exercise—intended to reflect on what the Council has achieved with regard to climate and security—and a forward-looking opportunity to explore “what is needed for the Council to more effectively assess and address climate-related security risks, without duplicating the responsibilities of other UN bodies”.
In recent years, the Council has addressed issues related to climate and security in thematic debates; formal meetings on specific regions; outcomes on the Lake Chad Basin, West Africa and the Sahel, Somalia and Mali; and in Arria-formula meetings. And yet, in spite of this increased engagement on the issue, it remains a matter of some controversy whether the Council is the appropriate forum for a discussion pertaining to climate.
The wide range of views on this issue is likely to be reflected in tomorrow’s meeting. On the one hand, an increasing number of UN member states (both inside and outside the Council) have underscored the security risks of climate change and believe it is essential that the Council be equipped with quality analysis of the impact of climate on triggering and exacerbating conflict, maintaining that improved analysis and information on these impacts will better inform the Council’s decision-making. On the other hand, while accepting that climate change has negative security impacts, other members (such as Bolivia, China and Russia) believe that Council engagement on this issue encroaches on the prerogatives of other UN organs, including the General Assembly and ECOSOC. The current US administration has questioned the impact of climate change in general, reflected in part by its decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord.
Despite these differences of view, a number of possible options for engagement by the Council (and the UN system) on climate-related security risks are likely to be addressed during the meeting. Several members may advocate for enhanced analysis and information on climate-related security risks from the Secretariat. In its 2011 presidential statement on climate change (S/PRST/2011/15), the Council called for conflict analysis and contextual information on the possible implications of climate change in the reports of the Secretary-General “when such issues are drivers of conflict, represent a challenge to the implementation of Council mandates or endanger the process of consolidation of peace”. Nonetheless, implementation of this presidential statement has been limited at best.
This lack of implementation has been a cause of concern for several Council members, especially as climate-related security risks become more evident to them in a number of cases on the Council’s agenda. For example, in the past 16 months, the Council has recognised the need for risk assessment and management strategies to address climate-related risk factors such as water security, drought, and food insecurity in the context of the Lake Chad Basin (S/RES/2349 of 31 March 2017), West Africa and the Sahel (S/PRST/2018/3 of 30 January 2018) and Somalia (S/RES/2408 of 27 March 2018). In this regard, some members may call for an “institutional home” in the Secretariat to gather, analyse, and synthesise information from various parts of the UN system on climate and security that can be used to inform Security Council decision-making and enhance its ability to prevent and respond to conflict.
There may also be discussion of how the UN system can work more cohesively and effectively to assist conflict-affected countries to address security risks brought on by climate change. Members may be interested in hearing examples of best practices—or potential strategies to be explored—with respect to UN engagement on these matters. The role of the Council in political messaging to increase attention around the security implications of climate change could also be raised during the meeting.
On a related note, the importance of working with regional organisations in addressing climate and security issues may be raised in the meeting, a point made in Sweden’s concept note. Some Council members recognise that regional and sub-regional bodies are well placed to identify and manage climate-related security risks (such as land degradation, food insecurity and transhumance) in their own backyards, and that the UN system needs to cooperate with these bodies, and with concerned states, to best address such risks. In his recent report on ways to strengthen the partnership between the UN and the AU on peace and security in Africa, the Secretary-General noted that the UN continues to engage with national governments, sub-regional organisations and the AU to address the impact of climate on peace and security, among other challenges, in the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa (S/2018/678).
The impact of climate change on small island developing states, some of which face an existential threat from rising sea levels, is expected to be addressed during the meeting. In this respect, President Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao is expected to make an intervention of behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and will most likely describe the challenges that climate change poses to his country. The Council has discussed the impact of climate change on small island developing states in the past. Most notably, in July 2015, under the New Zealand presidency, an open debate was held on the peace and security challenges facing small island developing states, which focused on climate change, transnational crime and piracy, and illicit exploitation of natural resources (S/PV.7499).
In the future, while differences of view are likely to persist, it appears that the connection between climate and security will continue to be a focus of attention in the Council. Several of the newly elected members that will serve on the Council in 2019-2020 advocate its engagement on this issue; one of them (Belgium) has called for the appointment of a Special Envoy on Climate Change, while another (Germany) spearheaded the negotiations on the 2011 presidential statement on the issue.