posted on Thu 24 Jan 2019 3:05 PM
Open Debate: “Addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security”

Tomorrow (25 January), the Security Council will hold an open debate focused on addressing the impact of climate-related disasters on international peace and security. Miguel Vargas, the Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic, is expected to chair the meeting. At least 75 Council and other member states are expected to participate in the meeting, 13 of them at ministerial level. Briefings are anticipated from: Rosemary Di Carlo, Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs; Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator; Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); and Lindsay Getschel, a research assistant in the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program. While no formal Council product is anticipated, the Dominican Republic is planning to produce a chair’s summary of the meeting.

Climate change has gained some traction in the Security Council’s work over the past two years, even though its presence on the Council’s agenda since 2007 has been controversial. During a visiting mission to the Lake Chad region in March 2017, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou told members that he did not believe that Boko Haram would have “taken root” without the shrinking of Lake Chad, which had lost 90 percent of its surface area since the 1960s with a devastating effect on local livelihoods. Others with whom the Council interacted during the trip also made the connection between climate change and security risks in the region.

Shortly after this visiting mission, the Council adopted resolution 2349, which addressed the multi-faceted dimensions of the Boko Haram conflict. Among its many elements, the resolution emphasised the need for adequate risk assessment and management strategies by governments and the UN relating to the adverse security effects of climate and ecological factors in the Lake Chad Basin. Subsequently, Council outcomes on several other African issues—the UN Office for Central Africa, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Mali, Somalia, and Sudan (Darfur)—have incorporated language on climate and security, largely drawn from resolution 2349.

Sweden, which completed its Council tenure on 31 December 2018, hosted a debate in July 2018 on “Understanding and addressing climate-related security risks”, and in August 2018, incoming Council member Germany jointly launched a Group of Friends of Climate and Security with Nauru. Germany and Nauru co-chair the Group, which now consists of 44 member states from the UN’s five regional groups. It includes seven Council members: Belgium, the Dominican Republic, France, Indonesia, Poland, and the UK, in addition to Germany.

The Dominican Republic has circulated a concept note in preparation for tomorrow’s debate in which it asserts that “[e]xtreme weather events and disasters can compound existing grievances and stress overburdened governance systems”. The note describes the negative impact of climate-related events such as hurricanes, floods, and storms on Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia. It further states that “droughts and desertification contribute to instability and conflict potential through loss of livelihoods and food insecurity, including in…African regions, the Middle East and parts of Asia,” and notes that rising sea levels related to climate change pose an existential threat to many island states.

A series of key questions are posed in the concept note to help guide the discussion. These include:

  • How can a better understanding of risks and vulnerabilities related to climate-related disasters be developed?
  • What can the UN system do to help address these risks and support regional organisations in this regard?
  • What role can the Security Council play in responding early and adequately to climate-related disasters and make better use of extreme weather forecasts and climate and disaster information?
  • How can UN peace operations work to prevent and manage climate-related disasters more effectively?
  • What support should the Security Council request from other parts of the UN system to prevent and contain the security risks linked to climate disasters?

The question of whether the Council is an appropriate body to discuss climate change has been raised since 17 April 2007, when the Council held its first open debate on climate and security. Russia and some G77 states continue to express concern that the Council’s engagement encroaches on the prerogatives of other UN entities, which they maintain are better equipped to deal with the issue. Although it had espoused a perspective similar to Russia’s for many years, China’s position may be shifting, with signs that it takes seriously the impact of climate change and its potential security implications. Since 2017, when President Donald Trump assumed office, the US has shown ambivalence about the Council addressing climate change.

Other Council members (and UN member states more broadly) strongly support Council engagement, including permanent members France and the UK, which spearheaded the original Council debate on this issue in April 2007. Several elected members—including some that entered the Council this year such as Belgium, the Dominican Republic, and Germany—have signaled a strong interest in the Council pursuing climate change as a security matter. Among the wider membership, several small island developing states have noted that for them, the existential threat implied by climate change merits Security Council engagement.

Some member states (both in and outside the Council) may express more caution in tomorrow’s meeting. They are not opposed to Council discussion of climate-related security risks; however, they want to learn more about what the Council can concretely add to international efforts to address the security related-risks of climate change in specific countries and regions.

It will be interesting to hear the views of the wider membership on climate and security tomorrow and whether they have changed since the last open debate in the Council specifically on climate change in July 2011. That open debate, held at Germany’s initiative when it was last on the Council, included the participation of 62 Council and other member states.