What's In Blue

Posted Thu 23 Jul 2020

Climate and Security: Ministerial-level Open Debate

Tomorrow morning (24 July) Security Council members will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “climate and security” in open videoconference format. A senior official from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is expected to brief. Colonel Mahamadou Magagi of Niger, Director of the Centre National d’Études Stratégiques et de Sécurité, and Coral Pasisi of Niue, Director of the Sustainable Pacific Consultancy, are also scheduled to brief. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will chair the meeting.

Germany, which is Council president this month, is co-sponsoring the meeting with nine other Council members—Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and Viet Nam. In addition to Council members, several member states are planning to speak on behalf of regional or other groups: Belize (Alliance of Small Island States); Denmark (the Nordic Group); Fiji (Pacific Small Island Developing States); Nauru (Group of Friends on Climate and Security); and Tuvalu (Pacific Island Forum). A representative of the EU will also speak, as will Kenya and Ireland, which will serve on the Council in 2021-2022.

Other non-Council member states and observer states will have the opportunity to participate through written statements, which will be published in a UN document consisting of a compendium of the briefings and statements from the debate.

Germany will produce a chair’s summary highlighting the main themes of the meeting, which will also be published as a UN document.

The DPPA representative is expected to discuss how climate-security risks play out differently within and across various regions and affect vulnerable communities and populations. DPPA may also emphasise that efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace need to be climate-sensitive to be effective; in this context, the importance of improved climate risk analysis in efforts to tackle the security challenges of climate change may be noted. Pasisi will most likely focus on the impact of climate change on food security and livelihoods in the Pacific region. She may also discuss the threat posed by climate-induced rising sea levels to the very existence of many Pacific island developing states. Magagi is expected to focus on the security impacts of climate change in the Sahel region.

A concept note has been circulated by the meeting’s co-sponsors in preparation for the debate (S/2020/725). It underscores the need for the Security Council to be provided with comprehensive and authoritative information on the security implications of climate change. Several questions are posed in the concept note to help guide the discussion, including:

  • How can the Council obtain authoritative information on the impact of climate-related security risks in conflict environments?
  • What tools, partnerships and early warning capabilities would support the timely assessment of and response to climate-related security risks to prevent the escalation of conflicts?
  • How can UN in-country resources (including peace operations and special political missions) be enabled to better collect, analyse and report on relevant information in countries and regions in a gender-sensitive manner?
  • Which current tools can the Council use to address the security implications of climate change and how could these be enhanced to respond appropriately to climate-related security risks?
  • How can the Council enhance its operational readiness to address such risks?

Climate-security matters remain controversial in the Council. China, Russia and the US have strong reservations about the organ’s engagement on such matters. China and Russia have expressed concern that Council involvement in this area encroaches on the prerogatives of other UN entities, which they maintain are better equipped to handle this issue. Russia also believes that climate change is fundamentally a sustainable development issue with only tangential links to international peace and security. Like Russia and China, the US has opposed expanding climate-security language in several outcomes. The concerns of these three permanent members about Council involvement on climate change as a security issue will probably be reflected in their interventions tomorrow.

Despite this resistance, most current members strongly support Council involvement on climate-security issues. These countries believe that there should be a more systematic integration of climate-related security risks into the Council’s work. They emphasise that climate change contributes to factors such as drought, water scarcity, food scarcity, and desertification that can increase the risk of and exacerbate conflict. They would like for the Council to receive enhanced information from the UN system on climate-security risks and for the UN system to strengthen its understanding of and response to these risks. They further support the development of synergies among the Council and other UN entities in addressing climate-security challenges.

These countries would like for the Council to pursue a thematic resolution on climate-security issues in the future. While Germany had produced a draft resolution in collaboration with nine other members and circulated it to the full Council on 20 June, the negotiations were suspended earlier this month, as the political environment in the Council prevented them from pursuing a resolution at the current time.  Nonetheless, in tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are expected to explore how the Council can more comprehensively integrate climate-security issues into its work. In this regard, members may advocate for enhanced reporting from the Secretariat on climate security risks, call for UN peace operations to develop strengthened capacity to assess and respond to these risks, and highlight the efforts of the UN climate-security mechanism—which consists of staff from DDPA, the UN Development Programme, and the UN Environment Programme—to foster a common understanding of the linkages between climate change and security across the UN system and to support climate-security risk assessments in the field.

While the relationship between climate change and security has been a contentious matter in the Council, the issue has gained considerable traction in the organ’s work in recent years. The Council has addressed the security impacts of climate change in 12 resolutions since 2015. These include resolutions on:

  • Women, Peace and Security (S/RES/2242 of 13 October 2015);
  • the Lake Chad Basin Region (S/RES/2349 of 31 March 2017);
  • the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (S/RES/2461 of 27 March 2019);
  • the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (S/RES/2480 of 28 June 2019);
  • the UN/AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur (S/RES/2429 of 13 July 2018);
  • the AU Mission in Somalia (S/RES/2431 of 30 July 2018, S/RES/2472 of 31 May 2019, and S/RES/2520 of 29 May 2020);
  • the “Silencing the Guns in Africa” initiative (S/RES/2457 of 27 February 2019);
  • the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (S/RES/2499 of 15 November 2019);
  • the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (S/RES/2502 of 19 December 2019); and
  • the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (S/RES/2524 of 3 June 2020)

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the Council’s fifth thematic debate specifically on climate-security issues, although it has also held debates and briefings on related topics such as “water, peace and security” and “preventive diplomacy and transboundary waters”. The Council’s most recent climate-security debate was convened in January 2019 during the Dominican Republic’s Council presidency (S/PV.8451).

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