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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: 

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New report on the UN Security Council’s work on climate security published

This is a cross-post from the Planetary Security Initiative

In the past 18 months, the emergence of climate security as a mainstreamed and core risk for national governments and IGOs has accelerated. In particular, the UN Security Council (UNSC) is becoming more cognizant of climate change being a core security risk that should be under the remit of the organ and subsequently integrated into peacekeeping considerations and mission deployments.

A new report just published by “Security Council Report” is a first comprehensive analysis on the centrality and action of the UNSC, commissioned by the member states of the ‘Group of Friends on Climate and Security’. It seems to fill the void of no official UNSC report existing yet on the topic. The overarching message is that the issue is becoming increasingly talked about and embedded within the UN, but that disagreements over climate change’s impacts on security and whether it should be dealt with by a security organ persist.  The Security Council itself has seen 2 debates hosted on climate security in 2020 and 2021 respectively and the establishment of an Informal Expert Group to push for greater focus on the UNSC attention on climate security. 

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New Climate Security Report has Implications for NATO and COP26

By Danice Ball and Lily Feldman

Earlier this month, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) released the World Climate and Security Report (WCSR) 2021, the second in an ongoing series of annual reports. The report dives into climate security risk assessments for a few hotspot regions, including Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, and also provides concrete tools to help policymakers address the growing unprecedented threats. A unique inclusion in this year’s report is a new Climate Security Risk Matrix and Methodology, which allows for evaluation of comparative climate risk among countries. In addition, the report features a Climate Security Risk Perception Survey, aggregating forecasts of climate risks from leading climate security experts in the world. These experts find climate security to be among the most pressing issues the world faces now, and a priority for future planning efforts. Between the Risk Matrix, the Survey, climate security case studies, and policy recommendations, the IMCCS Expert Group believes that policymakers will find the information needed to inform next steps in both preparing for and preventing climate security risks.

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Climate Security at the UNSC: Opportunities for US Action in March

Caitlin Werrell, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Climate and Security, presents the Responsibility to Prepare framework to the UN Security Council – Dec 15, 2017

By Erin Sikorsky, Steve Brock, Francesco Femia, Rachel Fleishman, and Caitlin Werrell

“No one country can solve the climate crisis on its own. It’s exactly the kind of challenge the United Nations was created to solve.” – U.S. Special Envoy John Kerry, UNSC High Level Meeting on Climate Security

On February 23, the UK capped off its February Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC) by hosting a high-level meeting on climate security, chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At the meeting, Johnson noted, “it is absolutely clear that climate change is a threat to our collective security and the security of our nations….climate change is a geopolitical issue every bit as much as it is an environmental one. And if this Council is going to succeed in maintaining peace and security worldwide then it’s got to galvanise the whole range of UN agencies and organisations into a swift and effective response.” 

What might such a swift and effective response look like? As the United States assumes the UNSC Presidency in March, it has an opportunity to turn the speeches at the UK-led meeting into lasting action. The Presidency will be Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s first chance to advance President Biden’s repeated pledges to put climate change at the center of U.S. foreign policy. Possible activities the US could consider, in support of its broader whole-of-government strategy as outlined in the Executive Order on the climate crisis, are the following: 

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