UNSC and the Climate Change-based threat to International Peace

Updated: May 26

Subodh Singh,

Research Intern,

Internationalism Research.

One of the major issues that are slated to be discussed by the UN Security Council is climate-security. The ministerial-level open debate will be convened by Germany in late July and a concrete solution/product is expected to be the consequence of the debate. The meeting can be held through videoconferencing (VTC) due to the measures in place to fight the Covid pandemic.

Addressing the Climate- Security threat by Security Council

The issue of climate-security has been emphasised a lot lately by the Security Council due to the immediate concerns it poses to humanity. In January 2019, the Security Council had held a discussion centred around the theme of climate-security matters. The open debate which happened under the presidency of the Dominican Republic focussed on how climate-related disasters affected global peace, security and stability. In the meeting, experts from organisations like World Meteorological Organisation and Stimson Center’s Environmental Organisation elaborated over the numerous negative impacts of climate change and how it causes water conflicts ultimately leading into displacement and global instability. They further made an appeal to the Security Council to pass a resolution pronouncing climate change as a formal threat to international peace and security. Representatives of UNDP and Political and Peacebuilding Affairs enumerated the efforts undertaken to assess and mitigate climate change threats.

In an Arria-formula meeting that was held on 22nd April, the organising countries which included Germany held discussions on the theme of climate and security risks and analysed the available data. The meeting was briefed by Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo; Robert Malley, President and CEO, International Crisis Group; and Dan Smith, Director, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The briefers discussed how UN had mediated between farmers and pastoralists in West Africa who were contesting resources. Robert Malley presented a potential solution by pointing out that climate change conflicts can be most effectively prevented by understanding the context of every individual conflict. Dan Smith emphasised that UN needed to increase climate risk awareness internally and it should also be integrated with the general understanding of conflict prevention. The organising countries further held a virtual meeting UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the 22nd of June to convey their views on climate security matters and the need to improve the quality of information that the Security Council was receiving on the issue. The ten Council member-states also stressed on the urgency of the UN to be ready for climate-related security threats.

Adoption and formalisation of the climate-security language

Apart from these Council meetings, many other steps have been taken by the Security Council in recent years in an effort to embed ‘climate security language into its formal language’. Recent outcomes of the Council relating to African countries have reflected and integrated the importance of assessing risks and managing them when it comes to climate change and its adverse impacts. The latest such outcome was in December 2019 when the Council acknowledged the negative effects of climate and ecological change while renewing the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). The Council also appreciated the efforts that had been undertaken by the DRC’s government in addressing these issues. This marked an important landmark in the Council’s road to demarcating climate change as a formal threat to international peace and security. Similar efforts have been undertaken by the Council to integrate climate-security language in presidential in the present year in offices and missions to West Africa, Sahel, Somalia and Sudan.

The Interplay of Gender Norms and the Climate threat

The UN Secretary-General in his report on women, peace and security of October 2019, acknowledged that climate change affects women and girls in a more adverse way as it worsens the existing gender inequality crisis. Further in the report, he also called for a more inclusive approach to understand climate change and analyse it from the perspective of gender inequality. This appeal was responded to, on 8 June, by the UN Environment Program, UN Women, the UNDP, and the DPPA through a report titled “Gender, Climate & Security: Sustaining inclusive peace on the frontlines of climate change.” The report argued that existing gender norms of the society determine the impact and response of threats posed to international peace by climate change. The report presented case studies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and gave certain recommendations based on the interplay of ‘climate action, gender equality and peace and security. One of the recommendations was to make policy debates on climate change more gender-inclusive in a way that gender considerations are given adequate space in those deliberations. It must be noted that in the meeting hosted in January 2019 by the Dominican Republic on climate-security threats, only 5 out of the 75 member states sought to include a gender perspective in the climate-security issue.

Dynamics of the Security Council

The recent efforts of the Council members have highlighted the importance of the issue of climate change and security. Climate change problems around the world like drought, water scarcity and food shortage crisis have been known to escalate tensions and cause conflicts among nations leading to global instability. Thus, most of the nations in the Council believe that climate-related risks should have greater engagement and deliberation in meetings. However, at the same time, the powerful nations like China, Russia and the US have expressed their reservations claiming that other specialised entities of the UN have better resources and structure to deal with the issue of climate and security. Russia further has opined that climate security cannot be directly linked with international peace and security. The Council’s efforts to integrate climate-security language in Iraq, Haiti and some other matters were resisted by the US.

What can be expected in the forthcoming meeting?