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The U.S. Presidency of the UN Security Council: A Chance to Move Climate Change Up the Agenda

For the month of April, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice will lead the U.S. presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), an honor awarded to member nations on a rotating basis.

If Rice’s agenda as ambassador to the UN is any indication, the security implications of climate change should feature as a prominent item during the U.S. presidency. Indeed, when Rice was confirmed as ambassador, she articulated four key areas that she would focus on: “strengthening the capacity of the UN to undertake complex peace operations effectively; addressing climate change; preventing the spread or use of nuclear weapons and working to meet the goals of the Nonproliferation Treaty; and combating poverty, disease, violence and genocide.”

From our perspective, these four items are inextricably linked. Climate change is a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities like poverty, disease and violence, and potentially impacting peace operations in places that are experiencing severe climatic stresses, such as Sudan. It is also relevant in other places at the center of the UNSC’s current attention, like Syria, which has experienced five years of punishing drought – a stretch of dry weather that has been recently linked to climate change by NOAA. As we have indicated before, this drought has had a marked impact on social unrest in the country, both in rural and urban settings. Furthermore, climate policies are linked to the so-called “nuclear Renaissance,” which could ultimately have unforeseen implications for the proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons.

As we noted previously, Ambassador Rice has been a leader in the climate-security space. In July of 2011, she hailed the German UNSC presidency for its efforts to produce a presidential statement on the issue, while sharply criticizing some member countries for blocking attempts at a more robust recognition by the Council of the peace and security implications of climate change. Part of her statement is worth re-posting here:

In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS. Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does. We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.

Ambassador Rice now has the opportunity to turn that bold stance into concrete actions. Recommending the appointment of a UN special representative on climate and security, and requesting that the UN Secretary General undertake an annual analysis of climate security risk by region, would be a great start.

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