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Deepening UN Action on Climate Security

US President Joe Biden Addresses the UN General Assembly, 21 Sept 2021. Photo Credit UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist.

As the high-level meetings of the 76th UN General Assembly kick off this week, climate change is front and center. Secretary-General Guterres led with a strong call to action, saying “The world must wake up,” to the, “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.” On Thursday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) prepares to debate climate security again. Ahead of the meeting, it’s useful to examine how the UN can drive action to match the ambition of past verbal commitments. How can it implement climate security practices to address the increasing risks to peace posed by rising temperatures? The 2021 World Climate and Security Report, released in June of this year, has some answers to this question, which we have excerpted below: 

The UN system has long led the global effort on negotiated reductions in national emissions. With key nations and other multilateral institutions unable or unwilling to act, the UN process has persevered in keeping negotiated climate action on the global agenda. With political will now building within its most powerful members, the UN-led international system must seize the initiative to address all aspects of climate change drawing on the core tenets of its founding principles: peace, security, sovereignty, and human rights. It must adapt and update treaties and protocols that govern the global commons and shared environmental resources. 

There are important steps all UN member states can take within their regional blocks and in the General Assembly to advocate for climate security integration into UN institutions and processes. These longer-term actions will require sustained commitment and coalition-building to enact. Broad-based support will be especially critical in the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee which has authority over budget and management issues. These steps include: 

  • The official integration of climate security considerations into each UN mission’s semi-annual report to the Secretary General and the UNSC. Each Force Commander could also be tasked with including climate security considerations in their annual briefings. 
  • The establishment of multiple regional Climate Security Crisis Watch Centers which feed into a UN-wide Climate Security Crisis Watch Center. Such centers would have the triple benefits of: cultivating a shared data driven community; giving regional organizations a role in the success of a global climate security data network; and connecting these organizations through their common mission.208 
  • With a UNSC or UN General Assembly climate and security mandate, the Secretary General could exercise his authority to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary General for Climate Security as part of the Special Advisors, Representatives and Envoys construct. In the absence of a UN climate and security mandate, like-minded member states should encourage the Secretary General to appoint a Personal Representative for Climate Security. 
  •  Further building out an institutional structure through the creation of an office for climate and security within the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs at the Assistant Secretary General-level, a division for climate and security within the Department of Peace Operations, and a climate security unit within the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 
  • Any climate and security organizational entity established should work closely with the Secretary General’s Special Advisor for Climate Action, currently dual-hatted as the Assistant Secretary General for the UN Climate Action Team. 

Incorporating climate security successfully will require the same level of discipline and rigor as are afforded other critical security issues within the UN system, including full integration into training, education, situational assessments, planning and operations. Institutionalizing analysis and action on climate security risks and opportunities throughout the UN will help the organization meet its mission to maintain international peace and security.

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