By Neil Bhatiya, Climate and Diplomacy Fellow, The Center for Climate and Security
Last month, the United Nations Security Council held the latest in what has become a series of Arria formula meetings on climate change and security. These informal consultations allow Security Council members to discuss issues threatening international peace and security without putting the full diplomatic weight of the Council behind a specific course of action, or obligating individual member-states to endorse specific statements issued by the Security Council on an issue which may be sensitive to their national interests. Ukraine, with the assistance of Germany, convened this particular meeting, with a specific emphasis on sea-level rise as a threat to international peace and security, a theme Janani Vivekananda and I explored in a CCS briefer on climate change and megacities.
Ukraine opened the discussion by noting that its participants were following in the footsteps of previous Arria meetings held in 2007, 2011, and twice in 2015. Like those earlier meetings, participating member-states emphasized the myriad ways in which climate change threatened economic growth and livelihoods, as well as political stability. Ukraine underscored that of all the UN member-states, it was the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) who truly faced an existential threat from climate change, as sea-level rise would render their national territory uninhabitable. Some member-states, like Japan, adopted the same language often used by the United States military, calling climate change a “threat multiplier” which would accelerate destabilizing phenomena like “resource competition, migration, extreme weather events and disasters, food insecurity and water shortages.”
As evidenced by the statement of the the German Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Harold Braun, many of the remarks by UN member-states focused on the responsibility inherent in the Security Council to act on the threat of climate change. And for that action to be effective and timely, Braun continued, the UN system as a whole needs a lot more information, particularly “[how] climate policies account for peace and security consequences and (2) [ensure] that peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts do reflect climate consequences.” *
While a series of speeches may seem like an usual basis upon which to build momentum for further action, especially within a bureaucracy as slow-moving as the United Nations, the recent history of appreciation for this issue suggests otherwise. Building legitimacy around policy solutions for a problem as wide-ranging and complex as climate change requires as broad a conversation as possible using available bilateral and multilateral fora, a realization being made by several member-states who had previously been reluctant to see the Security Council address this issue. In its statement, for example, Japan emphasized its role as the chair of G7 Working Group on Climate and Fragility, which brings together some of the world’s most advanced economics to think through how diplomacy, development, and defense policies can be aligned to reduce risks from climate change.
Such discussions are being replicated elsewhere as part of a broader process that the UN is undertaking to build expertise on this issue. Only one day after the Arria formula dialogue concluded at UN headquarters in New York, the head of the Food and Agricultural Organization briefed reporters in Rome after a tour of the countries of the Lake Chad basin, which are facing a complex humanitarian and ecological emergency, exacerbated by both climate change and the fight against the Islamist militant group Boko Haram (the Security Council also sent a delegation to the Lake Chad basin). Two weeks later on April 25, the government of Sweden, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, also organized a retreat in New York on the intersection of climate and security, building on the work of Dr Malin Mobjörk and her team at SIPRI.
Meetings like these are a necessary but insufficient step in that process. As the Arria formula discussions have become more frequent, more member-states have participated or spoken, and the publics they serve are becoming slowly more aware of the complex nexus between climate change and international peace and security. The critical next steps will be for the United Nations as a system, as well as the individual member-states who are able to do so, to build on the suggestions made so that in future years the Security Council has the tools it needs to address one of the most pressing threats to international peace and security.
*The critical importance for the UN to provide contextual information to UN member-states was also an important theme of my previous issue brief.