What's In Blue

Posted Fri 15 Oct 2021

Climate and Security: Arria-formula Meeting on Sea-Level Rise

On Monday (18 October), an Arria-formula meeting on “Sea-Level Rise and Implications for International Peace and Security” will be held in person in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The meeting is being organised by Viet Nam, Ireland, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tunisia and is co-sponsored by several non-Council members, including the Dominican Republic, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, and Tuvalu. The expected briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari; Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I at the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assesses the physical science of climate change; and Coral Pasisi, Senior Adviser to the Director General of the Sustainable Pacific Consultancy.

The concept note circulated by Viet Nam ahead of Monday’s meeting underscores climate change as a risk multiplier which worsens global security and development challenges. Sea-level rise, one of the consequences of climate change, threatens the territorial integrity and, in some cases, the existence of many low-lying and small island developing states, according to the concept note. Affecting up to one-third of UN member states and disproportionately harming people who live in low-lying coastal areas and developing countries, sea-level rise and coastal erosion, the concept note continues, exacerbate existing socio-economic problems. They increase water scarcity, food insecurity and poverty; cause displacement; destroy coastal infrastructure; and increase social tensions. These factors, the note concludes, incubate “conditions for future conflicts”.

According to the concept note, the aim of Monday’s meeting is to improve the Council’s understanding of sea-level rise and its link to international and regional peace, security and stability. The meeting will also allow the Council to discuss how it can support affected countries’ mitigation efforts to address these threats.

The concept note proposes several questions to help guide the discussion, including:

  • How can the Council better understand the interlinkages between instability, conflict and climate risks, including climate change-related sea-level rise?
  • What are the best policy and practical measures to effectively approach the multifaceted risks of climate change and in particular, sea-level rise, including through conflict prevention and peacebuilding?
  • How can the UN and other international and regional organisations be better empowered to address the challenges of climate change and sea-level rise, including through adaptation and mitigation measures and support to small island developing states?
  • How can the Security Council better employ its existing tools and mechanisms in addressing climate-related security risks, particularly the risks from sea-level rise?

Divisions remain over the Council’s role in addressing climate and security issues. Twelve members—Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Tunisia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the UK, the US, and Viet Nam—are supportive of a more systematic integration of climate-related security risks into the Council’s work, with varying degrees of commitment. Several of these members emphasise that such factors as drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, and desertification, which are caused or exacerbated by climate change, increase the risk of violent conflict. China and Russia, joined in 2021 by India, are sceptical about Council engagement on this issue, especially at the thematic level. They believe that climate change is fundamentally a sustainable development issue that is more appropriately addressed by other parts of the UN system.

Despite these disagreements, it appears that most Council members, including those who oppose Council involvement on climate and security, agree that climate change poses a threat to small island developing states due to rising sea levels and have raised the issue on several occasions. On 17 April 2007, during an open debate on the “Relationship between Energy, Security and Climate”, most Council members expressed concern about the effects of rising sea levels on small island states. On 20 July 2011, the Council adopted a presidential statement which expressed its concern that “possible security implications of loss of territory of some States caused by sea-level rise may arise, in particular in small low-lying island States”. A July 2015 open debate on “Peace and Security Challenges Facing Small Island Developing States” underscored small island developing states’ vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Finally, on 10 April 2017, an Arria-formula meeting on the “Security Implications of Climate Change: Sea-Level Rise” was organised by then-Council member Ukraine in cooperation with non-Council member Germany.

Notwithstanding these earlier events, Council activities related to rising sea levels and their effects on peace and security remain sporadic, with the concept note arguing that the issue has not been “adequately deliberated recently in the Council as a standalone issue”. Addressing the issue will “help affected communities manage [their] overall resilience, reduce non-traditional threats to peace and security and contribute to preventing future conflicts and maintaining international peace and security”. The concept note also says that it is crucial to discuss the international community’s preparedness and response to these challenges.

The Council last addressed the broader issue of climate and security on 23 September 2021, when Ireland, who held the Council presidency, organised a high-level open debate on the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security” during the General Assembly’s high-level segment. At that meeting, Viet Nam’s President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc said that climate change is the “greatest global challenge of our time” and that sea-level rise “threatens to submerge” island states in the Pacific Ocean. Due to these threats and other climate-related security challenges, he argued that, among other steps, the Security Council needs to uphold its leading role in “establishing mechanisms for assessing, forecasting and warning on climate security risks at an early stage and while they are still distant”. Speaking at that meeting, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin announced that discussions on a thematic draft resolution on climate and security would soon commence. On 11 October, Council members conducted a first read-through of a draft resolution on climate and security.