Climate change poses risks to international peace and security: UN

Climate change poses risks to international peace and security through massive displacement of people and increased competition for scarce natural resources, speakers told the Security Council while expressing divergent views on what the 15-member organ can do about it.

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said the risks associated with climate-related disasters do not represent a scenario of some distant future but are already “a reality today for millions of people around the globe”.

Briefing during an open debate in which more than 80 Member States participated, she explained that climate change has heightened competition for diminishing land, forage and water resources in certain countries, fuelling tensions between herders and farmers, compounding socioeconomic exclusion and raising the chances of youth being recruited into armed groups.

Looking ahead, the United Nations will invest in certain actions, she said, noting that the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with practitioners from across and beyond the Organization, are developing an integrated risk-assessment framework to analyse climate-related security risks.  The Organization is also working to ensure that such analysis is better reflected in mandated reports and seeks to strengthen the evidence base to support the development of climate risk prevention and management strategies in the field.

Briefing via audio teleconference from Davos, Switzerland, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner emphasized that climate-related disasters, conflict and insecurity all have catastrophic impacts on people and societies.  Noting that the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report has just been released in Davos, he said that it spotlights climate change mitigation measures as one of the world’s top priorities today.

Describing climate change as a risk multiplier that exacerbates already existing challenges, he warned that without swift action to address it, more than 140 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia will be forced to migrate within national borders by 2050.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a chance for countries to leverage actions leading to real change, he added.

Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), spoke on behalf of that body’s Secretary-General, highlighting findings from the newly published Global Risks Report 2019, which indicate that extreme weather, natural disasters, climate change and water crises are the top four existential threats to the planet, demonstrating significant links with other shocks and impacts on peace and security as well as sustainable development.  Noting that today marks the first time that WMO has officially briefed the Council on climate and extreme weather issues, he said climate change affects security in a multitude of ways, rolling back gains in access to food, heightening the risks of wildfire and increasing the potential for water-related conflict.

Expressing hope for closer collaboration with the Security Council, he said WMO stands ready to provide authoritative information for decision-making, adding that the agency also supports the Council’s diplomatic business in areas appropriate to the understanding and analysis of peace and security threats.  As such, WMO is increasing its support to help the United Nations Operations and Crisis Centre provide expert information and assist the leadership in making informed, strategic decisions, he said.

Lindsay Getschel, a research assistant with the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program, said the Security Council can take three concrete steps to reduce the security impacts of climate change.  First, it should adopt a resolution formally recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security.  Secondly, deployed United Nations missions should assess how climate change will impact local youth and how young people can be involved in building resilience and sustainability.  Third, missions must transition to using clean energy in the field.

Following the briefings, speakers exchanged views on the Council’s role in addressing climate-related security threats.  Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister said it is high time the Council considers climate change as part of its regular work programme, while also incorporating it into country-specific discussions and the renewal of peacekeeping mandates.  He went on to propose the creation of an institutional focal point, such as a clearing house, which could pull together expertise from across the United Nations system to provide information to the Council.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister said that the Council must consolidate efforts to better respond to the security impacts of climate change, including by equipping peacekeepers with a capacity to undertake military operations other than war, such as “climate peace missions”.  She added:  “Our homework in the Council is to better define what falls under the ambit of climate change itself and what constitutes security dimensions of climate-related effects.”

The Russian Federation’s representative was among several speakers arguing that the Security Council is not the appropriate forum in which to address climate change.  Reiterating his country’s long-standing opposition to the “securitization” of climate change, he emphasized that considering it in the Council is both excessive and counter-productive.  Such discussions also undercut the division of labour within the United Nations, he added.  Moreover, climate change is not a universal challenge and should not be considered as such, he stressed, cautioning that doing so might lead to the false assumption that climate change always leads to conflict.

India’s representative said that research findings on the generalized links between climate disasters and security remain ambiguous, recalling that the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states:  “The evidence on the effect of climate change and variability on violence is contested.”  A securitized approach to climate change risks pitting States in competition whereas cooperation is more productive in tackling the threat, he said, adding that thinking in security terms usually engenders overly militarized responses.  It is also questionable to shift climate law-making from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a structurally unrepresentative institution with an exclusionary approach decided in secretive deliberations.

Widely representing the views of small island developing States, the Foreign Minister of Maldives said climate change will eventually take his entire country.  “Climate change is not only an everyday fact for the Maldives, but an existential threat,” he emphasized, predicting that the man-made two-metre rise in sea levels will result in a situation whereby the entire nation is virtually submerged.  Deploring the fact that Maldivian lakes are drying up while the Council discusses which United Nations forum is best suited to address climate change, he demanded:  “What is a bigger security threat to us than this?”

Sudan’s delegate said that his country has suffered from climate change and the resulting outbreaks of conflict, including the violence in Darfur, which began in 2003.  He explained that tensions among Darfur’s largely agriculture-dependent population erupted because of competition for limited resources, fed by the spread of weapons from neighbouring countries.

The observer for the European Union said that further efforts are required to ensure that relevant climate and environmental risks are appropriately included in risk assessments that form the basis of the Council’s decisions.  They should take into account the greater risks, burdens and adverse impacts on women and girls during and following disasters, including the heightened risk of gender-based violence.

Speaking in his national capacity, the Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic, which holds the Council’s presidency for January, said it is time for the Security Council to reach a consensus on how it will integrate climate change into its work.  He suggested that all proposals raised today should be collected and provided to the Secretary-General.  The proposals included the appointment of a special representative on climate change and security, and representation of small island developing States on the Security Council.

Also speaking at the Security Council were representatives of Kuwait, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, France, United States, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Guatemala, Hungary, Philippines, Haiti, Canada, Fiji, Nicaragua, Norway, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Japan, Greece, Latvia, Italy, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Barbados (for the Caribbean Community), Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Australia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Kenya, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, Chile, Nauru (for the Pacific Island Forum), Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Viet Nam, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Uruguay, Finland, Uzbekistan, Romania, Qatar, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Slovakia, Netherlands, Belize (for the Alliance of Small Island States), Tuvalu, Algeria, United Arab Emirates and Mauritius.