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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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Agenda 2021: Prospects for Climate Security and Other Strategic Risks at the UN Security Council

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UN_security_council_2005-1024x639.jpg

By Evan Barnard, Center for Climate and Security intern, with contributions from Andrea Rezzonico and William Beaver

The 2021 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agenda promises to take on a range of issues central to the Council on Strategic Risks mission. This blog post provides recommendations for action by the UNSC, as well as an overview of the key topics we expect to see on the agenda. Key recommendations for the UNSC include:

  • Climate: Establish a robust institutional home for climate and security at the UN – a Climate Security Crisis Watch Center.
  • Bio: Invest in next-generation genome sequencing to guard against infectious diseases and biological warfare.
  • Nukes: Aim to reduce nuclear weapon arsenals and increase openness for negotiation between nuclear nations.
  • Intersection of risks: Rather than separating these risk factors into silos, consider their global security implications jointly over a range of timescales.
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In Case You Missed It: A Summary of the Latest Climate Science Information (and Its Security Implications)

By Patrick Gruban (originally posted to Flickr as UN Security Council)[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dr. Marc Kodack

In case you missed it, the World Meteorological Organization brought together multiple entities, including United Nations-affiliated organizations and others, to publish their collective information on the latest climate science at the end of the summer. Each organization wrote one or more chapters. The overall messages from these chapters include that greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2020 from 2019 despite a small reduction in the increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic; Paris Agreement greenhouse has emissions goals are not being met; the sea level is rising faster than the long-term average; the period 2016-2020 will likely be the warmest five years on record; and the extent of Arctic sea-ice continues to decrease with warming over the next five years continuing at twice the overall rate elsewhere around the globe.

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The UN Security Council’s Lack of Consensus on Climate and Security

By Dr. Marc Kodack

While climate change and its implications for security have been acknowledged many times by international military leaders (see here for example), as well as by senior leaders in the U.S. Department of Defense (here), the United National Security Council (UNSC) has only addressed the issue in fits and starts thus far, despite the institution’s global charge to maintain international peace and security (here). One reason for this is the individualized lens that each member country uses to assess climate change and its effect on their own security, as well as others. This creates a barrier to a consensus on what the UNSC’s general agenda should be on climate change despite individual resolutions that single out specific areas or states where climate change and its effects on security, e.g., food insecurity, are mentioned and addressed (see here and here). Other U.N. organizations have readily embraced climate change and security within their programs (here).

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