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UN Security Council Meeting on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier for Global Security

UN_security_council_2005On June 30th, 2015, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an open Arria-formula meeting on the role of climate change as a threat multiplier for global security. The meeting was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Spain and Malaysia. The aim of the meeting, according to the prepared concept note, was “to better identify the inter-connected threats to international peace and security related to Climate Change.” The concept note continues: “Everyday more countries are incorporating climate change considerations into their national security policies and since Climate Change is, and will be, altering geopolitical dynamics, it seems necessary to develop more structured means of addressing this issue from an international perspective.” A list of speakers and statements is available below and here.

This is not the first time the UNSC has addressed the security implications of climate change, or influenced action on climate and security issues elsewhere in the UN. As the Arria-formula debate concept note points out, actions were taken by various governments in 2007: UNSC Debate on Climate, Peace and Security (press release); 2009: UN Secretary-General’s Report Climate change and its possible security implications (A/64/350) (PDF) & UN General Assembly (climate security) resolution; 2011: UNSC Presidential Statement 6587th (PDF), and in 2013: UNSC Arria Formula Meeting on Security Implications of Climate Change (press release). All of these documents can also be found on the Climate Security Chronology.

To date, the United States has lamented the difficulty of reaching a consensus on addressing climate risks at the UNSC. Then US Ambassador to the UN (and current U.S. National Security Advisor) Susan Rice made her disappointment with the 2011 Presidential Statement process very clear:

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.

However, this recent Arria-formula debate may be a sign of progress. What’s In Blue, a website that monitors the UNSC, points out that certain nations that were once opposed to UNSC “encroachment” on this issue, are now supportive:

The first-ever debate on the security implications of climate change was held in April 2007 (S/PV.5663), under the UK presidency. At the time, a number of Council members and member states had reservations about holding the debate. This included a letter sent by Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China ahead of the first debate, criticising the “encroachment” by the Council on the roles and responsibilities of other principal organs of the UN (S/2007/211). However, since then Pakistan and now Malaysia, which are members of the G-77, have chosen to co-chair the two Arria-formula meetings on this issue. This signals a desire on their part—and probably several others in the G-77—for a frank discussion on the security implications of this issue, with the Arria-formula serving as the most appropriate format given its informal nature.

Furthermore, many G-77 nations have also incorporated climate change into their military and defense doctrines since the first discussion of the issue in the UNSC in 2007. In this context, the Arria-formula meeting may present a turning point.

More progress may be on the horizon. New Zealand assumes the Presidency of the UNSC for the next six months, with a stated intention by Prime Minister John Key to focus on “the peace and security challenges confronting Small Island Developing States [SIDS], including many of our Pacific neighbors.” Given the significant vulnerability of many SIDS, climate change risks will likely be a significant part of that focus.

Documents

Here are the Statements from the Arria-formula debate on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier to Global Security (via Spain’s Permanent Mission to the UN)

Prof. Michael Gerrard, with the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, spoke at the Arria-formula meeting, and intends to “post a detailed paper with supporting materials and documentation outlining possible mechanisms for how the UNSC might address climate change displacement.” This will be a welcome addition to laying the foundation for how the UNSC can better address climate risks.

Other related events

Parallel to the Arria-formula meeting, a panel discussion was held at the UN on June 30th to launch the G7-commissioned report on climate and fragility, A New Climate For Peace, which further magnified attention to the issue. Participants on the panel included: Rt. Hon. Baroness Joyce Anelay, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK); Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of Environment and Energy, Maldives; Miroslav Jenca, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs; Janos Pasztor, UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change; and Kristen Walker Painemilla, Managing Director, The Policy Center for Environment and Peace, Conservation International. For more on the panel see Climate Diplomacy’s Storify page.


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