What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 Oct 2022

Debate on Climate and Security in Africa

Tomorrow morning (12 October), the Security Council will hold a debate on “Climate and security in Africa”, under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. This is one of the signature events of Gabon’s Council presidency. Gabon’s Foreign Minister Michaël Moussa-Adamo is expected to chair the meeting. The anticipated briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee; Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, Permanent Secretary of the National Climate Council of Gabon and former Chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators on Climate Change; and Patrick Youssef, ICRC Regional Director for Africa. At the time of writing, several member states—including Egypt, Italy, Germany (on behalf of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security), Morocco, Ukraine, Namibia, Niger, and Poland—were expected to make interventions under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Tomorrow’s debate will be the first formal Security Council meeting on climate change and security in 2022, whereas there were three Council open debates on this issue in 2021. The links between climate change and security have been discussed, however, in the informal Arria-formula format this year. On 9 March, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) convened a ministerial-level Arria-formula meeting on climate finance (that is, the local, national or transnational financing of initiatives aimed at addressing climate change and its effects) as a means to build and sustain peace in conflict, post-conflict and crisis situations. The UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber chaired that meeting.

Gabon has circulated a concept note in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting. It observes that while Africa accounts for only about four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is among the regions most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Climate change has negatively affected migration patterns, disrupted livelihoods, and contributed to resource scarcity in Africa. The scarcity of and challenges in accessing resources are “factors likely to generate social tensions, even violent conflicts, between populations at the local or transnational level, for example between farmers and herders”, according to the note.

The concept note lists three objectives for the meeting:

  • to analyse the links between climate change and peace and security in Africa;
  • to examine Africa’s tools to address the threats of climate change to peace and security and to mobilise them for sustainable peace on the continent; and
  • to explore ways to optimise the international community’s support for Africa in order to minimise the effects of climate change on peace and security.

The note also outlines questions to help guide the discussion:

  • What are the implications of climate change on peace and security in Africa?
  • How can the international community, including members of the Security Council, better support Africa in formulating appropriate responses to the effects of climate change on peace and security?
  • What kind of partnership can be established between the UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council, in the framework of the climate, peace and security nexus?
  • How can sustainable peace be promoted on the continent in the context of climate change?

Pobee might describe ways that UN peace operations in Africa are responding to climate-related factors that exacerbate insecurity. Youssef may elaborate on how climate change worsens humanitarian problems and undermines human security in Africa. He might talk about the ICRC’s efforts to address these challenges. Gahouma-Bekale may discuss efforts by African countries to adapt to the security risks related to climate change, while emphasising the need for enhanced climate financing for developing countries.

Strong divisions persist among Security Council members over whether the Council is an appropriate forum to address climate change. Eleven members—Albania, France, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, the UAE, the UK, and the US—support a more systematic integration of climate-related security risks into the Council’s work, with varying degrees of commitment. Several of these members tend to emphasise that factors such as drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, and desertification that are caused or exacerbated by climate change, are risk multipliers for conflict, in addition to having devastating effects on human security. They may reiterate these views at tomorrow’s meeting. Some developing countries, including those that support a role for the Council on climate and security matters, may also underscore the commitments that the developed world has made to contribute more to climate financing.

Gabon is not seeking an outcome in connection with tomorrow’s debate. This may be in large part because of the difficult dynamics in the Council on this issue, which have prevented agreement on including references to climate change in some Council products. These dynamics were reflected in December 2021, when Russia vetoed an Irish-Nigerien draft resolution that sought to integrate climate change and security matters more systematically into the Council’s work. India also voted against the draft resolution, while China abstained. The draft’s co-sponsorship by 113 member states demonstrated the traction that climate change as a security issue is gaining among the wider UN membership.

A consistent proponent of Council engagement on climate change and security, Gabon hosted an event titled “Africa Climate Week 2022” in Libreville from 29 August to 2 September. Over 2,300 stakeholders participated in the event, which focused on the following issues: resilience to climate risks, transition to a low-emission economy, and partnership to address climate-related challenges.

Brazil, India and Russia are especially sceptical of Council engagement on this issue, especially at the thematic level. At tomorrow’s meeting, they may reiterate their position that climate change is fundamentally a sustainable development issue that is more appropriately addressed by other parts of the UN system, including the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). They may also express the view that there is no clear connection between climate change and conflict, and that discussing this issue distracts the Council from addressing security matters that are more firmly within its remit. Although China has expressed similar reservations about the Council’s role on this issue, the presidential statement adopted by the Council on 31 August, which was initiated by China, included climate change language. China apparently worked closely with the African members of the Council (Gabon, Ghana, and Kenya) on the text.

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place less than a month before the start of the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27), which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November.

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