Climate Change and Security: Vote on a Resolution*
On Monday morning (13 December) the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on climate change and security which was co-authored by Ireland and Niger, the co-penholders on the climate file. It says that the adverse effects of climate change can “lead…to social tensions…, exacerbating, prolonging, or contributing to the risk of future conflicts and instability and posing a key risk to global peace, security, and stability”. The negotiations on the draft text were difficult and at the time of writing the outcome of the vote is uncertain. If adopted, the draft resolution will be the first stand-alone thematic resolution linking climate change and the maintenance of international peace and security. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership.
The draft resolution in blue emphasises the need for “a comprehensive, whole of UN approach to address climate change and its effects”. It acknowledges that several factors— including floods and drought, diminishing freshwater resources, desertification, land degradation and sea-level rise— can lead to water scarcity, food insecurity, and large-scale displacement, increasing the risk of conflict and instability. These factors, the draft text notes, particularly affect women, children, ethnic minorities and the most vulnerable.
Several reporting requirements are contained in the draft resolution. It asks the Secretary-General to submit to the Council within two years a report “on the security implications of the adverse effects of climate change in relevant country or region-specific contexts on the Council’s agenda as well as recommendations on how climate-related security risks can be addressed”. In addition, it requests the Secretary-General to include information on the security implications of climate change and recommendations to address it in his regular mission and thematic reporting to the Security Council.
The draft text in blue further asks the Secretary-General to “integrate climate-related security risk as a central component into comprehensive conflict-prevention strategies”. It also encourages relevant UN peacekeeping operations and special political missions to deploy dedicated capacity on climate security and suggests that UN peace missions and UN country teams incorporate the security implications of climate change in their assessments, analyses, and activities to prevent relapse into conflict. Finally, it requests the Secretary-General to ensure that relevant UN peace operations staff has “appropriate training within existing resources on climate-related security risks”.
Council dynamics on climate and security are difficult, as some Council members—including China and Russia—are sceptical about Council engagement on this issue, especially at the thematic level. While the Security Council has held numerous thematic debates on climate and security matters dating back to 2007, it has thus far been unable to agree on a resolution addressing the issue. The negotiations on the draft text in blue expected to be voted on Monday were also difficult and protracted.
Ireland and Niger circulated a zero draft of the resolution following a 23 September high-level open debate on climate and security which was organised by Ireland. The co-penholders apparently based their text on a draft resolution which was proposed in 2020 by then-Council member Germany in cooperation with nine other Council members. A vote on that draft text was not held because of strong resistance from China, Russia and the US.
The co-penholders convened a read-through of the zero draft with all Council members on 30 September and then held one round of negotiations on 11 October. It seems that during the 11 October meeting, deep Council divisions on the issue became evident: 12 members—Estonia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Norway, Tunisia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the UK, the US, and Viet Nam—expressed support for a more systematic integration of climate-related security risks into the Council’s work, requesting only minor adjustments to the zero draft. China, India and Russia, however, apparently expressed deep scepticism about the need for Council engagement on this issue. It seems that China voiced “strong reservations” about the need for such a resolution and Russia said that it would not engage any further on the text.
India and Russia also apparently highlighted concerns about a “securitised” approach to the issue, conveying apprehension that the Council could pursue coercive measures to address the challenges posed by climate change. This position was made more explicit during a 30 November press briefing with Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy, who said that “bringing climate topics to the Security Council and trying to enact such a mechanism as Chapter VII might be very dangerous”.
The co-penholders then placed a draft of the text under silence procedure on 29 November. China, India and Russia subsequently broke silence, disseminating to Council members nearly identical letters that objected to the draft resolution, arguing that there is “no clear scientific background for equating climate change with security concerns”. The letters expressed the view that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)-led process— which includes annual meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to that convention of all 197 member states— should be the forum for discussing climate change.
The letters also argue that, in contrast to the UNFCCC’s broad membership and inclusive process, the Security Council’s “limited participation and specific mandate” meant that it would be unfair for “a group of Member States…to create additional ‘dimensions’ of climate change and to subsequently impose their position on the rest of the membership”. A Security Council resolution on the matter would, according to the three members, create a separate process which would “only serve to sow the seeds of discord among the larger UN membership”.
It seems that following the silence break by China, India and Russia, the co-penholders held a series of bilateral meetings with Russia between 30 November and 3 December. An additional meeting— apparently between the co-penholders and China, India and Russia— was held on 6 December. It seems that the purpose of these meetings was to persuade the three members to support the draft resolution rather than to re-negotiate the text. After the co-penholders removed language calling for the Secretary-General to consider appointing a special representative for climate-related security risks, a draft resolution was put in blue on 6 December, to be voted on 13 December.
On 9 December, Russia circulated a draft presidential statement on the Sahel region as an apparent alternative to the co-penholders’ draft resolution. It seems that Russia indicated to some Council members that it could countenance a product alluding to climate change which focused on the Sahel region. The draft presidential statement is largely based on agreed language from previous Council products, including resolution 2349 of 31 March 2017 on the Lake Chad Basin. The draft presidential statement references “the adverse effects of environmental deterioration, including climate change on the stability of the [Sahel]”. At the time of writing, it appears that most Council members are unwilling to engage on the draft text as an alternative to the draft resolution in blue. It seems that some members may agree to discuss it as a separate Council product.
The positions of Council members and the broader UN membership were again highlighted during the Council’s 9 December high-level open debate on “security in the context of terrorism and climate change” which was organised by Niger. The majority of the 60 speakers at the meeting expressed support for the proposed resolution. Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who chaired the meeting, said that it was “high time” for the Council to adopt the resolution in order to strengthen its understanding of climate change’s effects on peace and security.
*Post-script: The draft resolution (S/2021/990) failed to be adopted because of a veto from Russia. It received 12 votes in favour, two against (India and Russia) and one abstention (China). The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 113 member states.