Climate Change, Peace and Security: Open Debate
Tomorrow (13 June), as one of the signature events of its presidency, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will convene a ministerial-level open debate on climate change, peace and security under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Mariam Almheiri, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, will chair the meeting. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Juan Manuel Santos—former President of Colombia, Nobel Peace Laureate, and a member of The Elders—and a civil society representative from the Middle East are expected to brief. At the time of writing, at least 70 participants, including Council members, UN member states, and observer missions, were expected to speak at the open debate.
The UAE has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s meeting indicating that the session aims to explore how climate change affects the capacity of UN peace operations (that is, peacekeeping operations and special political missions) to implement their mandates. This includes the ability of these operations to gain access to and protect at-risk populations, to manage tensions, and to support peace processes and sustainable peace. The meeting is also expected to highlight how climate action can provide entry points for preventing and resolving conflict and building peace.
The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion, including:
- How can the Security Council better integrate the impact of climate change on peace and security into its conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding efforts?
- How can the Security Council best utilise the findings of the risk management strategies that UN missions in climate-fragile settings have been mandated to carry out to inform its work?
- How might peace operation mandates be refined in light of these findings, and how can including climate fragility in the Secretary-General’s reports contribute to this?
- How can the Council better promote the perspectives and voices of those most impacted, particularly women and children, to inform inclusive, gender-sensitive approaches to climate change, peace and security?
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the Council’s second formal meeting this year on a topic related to climate change, peace and security. On 14 February, Malta convened a ministerial-level open debate on sea-level rise and its implications for international peace and security. As well, on 22 March, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting, an informal format, on “Protection of Civilians: Achieving a better protection of water-related essential services and infrastructure for the civilian population during armed conflicts”, which was organised by Mozambique and Switzerland. Among other matters, that meeting explored how addressing the adverse effects of climate change can help to inform measures to protect water services and related infrastructure.
At tomorrow’s session, Lacroix may describe actions taken by relevant UN peace operations in accordance with their mandates to help host governments assess and manage climate-related risks. He may reflect on the work of climate advisors in the three UN peace operations where they are deployed—the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Santos might emphasise the need for global cooperation in addressing the climate crisis.
Council members are divided over the extent to which climate change is a peace and security matter and under what circumstances it merits the Council’s attention. Most Council members espouse more systematic engagement by the body on climate change, peace and security issues. On 22 March, four of these members—Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the UAE—announced a “Statement of joint pledges related to climate, peace and security”. Among the pledges, these members made commitments to:
- request the inclusion of climate change and conflict analysis as a cross-cutting theme in UN briefings to the Council;
- strive to integrate climate, peace and security language in Council outcomes; and
- draw attention to and follow up on recommendations and issues raised at Council meetings on matters related to climate change, peace and security.
At tomorrow’s meeting, members supportive of the Council’s work on climate change may emphasise that climate action is an opportunity to help countries to build and sustain peace. They may refer to the UN’s efforts to help conflict-affected states build resilience and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change; in this regard, they may commend the work of climate advisors in UN peace operations. There is also likely to be discussion of the disproportionate effects of climate change on women and children, and the importance of including these groups in crafting solutions to the challenges of climate change. Ongoing concern that climate change is a “risk multiplier” that can exacerbate insecurity may also be an element of tomorrow’s deliberations.
Brazil, China, and Russia continue to have concerns about the Council’s engagement on climate change, and frequently question efforts to integrate climate-related language in peace operation mandates. Tomorrow, these members may reiterate the view that climate change is primarily a sustainable development issue rather than a threat to international peace and security. They may also express concerns about Council encroachment on other UN entities and processes—most notably the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—that are designed to address the adverse effects of climate change.
The UAE, which is convening the open debate, held 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 during its March 2022 Council presidency. It will also be hosting the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December.