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The UN Security Council’s Role in Addressing Climate Change

UN_security_council_2005Today, the United States takes over the Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC). In that light, it may be interesting to revisit the short history of the UNSC’s limited actions regarding climate change, and to consider what might be, or should be, next. Perhaps more substantial action on climate change could become a signature issue for President Obama’s choice for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power?

Though scholarship on the issue is in its early days, the academic journal Global Change, Peace and Security has recently published an interesting article regarding the UNSC’s legal and political role in addressing climate change, written by Stephanie Cousins at the University of Melbourne Law School.

The abstract reads:

In the context of a weakly enforced Kyoto Protocol, sluggish UN climate change negotiations and a closing window of opportunity to prevent the more cataclysmic scenarios of climate change, calls for the UN Security Council to play a role in international climate governance are becoming louder. The Security Council’s political clout and wide enforcement powers make it a seemingly ideal antidote to the current negotiation inertia. But how realistic is it for the Security Council to play a role in curbing climate change? This paper examines the ambition and enforcement limitations of the current UN legal regime for climate change and analyses whether the Security Council could help fill the gaps. It argues that climate change can legitimately be seen as a security issue, and that it is legally feasible for the Security Council to act on it, even using its full range of powers. However, politically there are just a few options worth exploring at this stage. These include: monitoring and early warning of climate-related security threats; and helping to resolve disputes peacefully between blocks of states with regards to mitigation and adaptation ambition.

If you have access to the journal, the full article can be read here.


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