Climate Security Debate Enters the Security Council

„The Security Council expresses its concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.“ The wording of the Presidential Statement agreed by the Security Council during its session on climate change on 20 July truly is less clear than simply calling climate change a „threat multiplier“ – an expression used by many analysts and decision makers in the context. The meaning, however, may go beyond the debates that have taken place in academia and among policy makers so far. As Peter Wittig, Germany’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), commented on the outcome: „This is a good day today for climate security.“ This may be true for a couple of reasons.

 

First, the debate in the Security Council encouraged an unusually high number of interventions by member states indicating the deep concern of many representatives – even of those against discussing the issue in the Security Council for fear of overloading the Council’s agenda.

 

Second, after a lively debate with seemingly unbridgeable differences between proponents and opponents of addressing climate change in this Council setting, a consensus was finally achieved. In other words, the major emitters of greenhouses gases around the world agreed that these emissions may partly be responsible for further exacerbating instability and conflict. Surprisingly, Ambassador Susan Rice of the U.S. joined the proponents by framing opposition to an agreement on the threat of climate change to peace and security during the debate as „pathetic“, „short-sighted“ and „a dereliction of duty“. China and Russia, with substantial resistance before, but also Brazil and India finally joined a compromise – all of them emphasizing the outstanding role of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the key arena to address climate change. It probably will be useful to remind all these countries of highlighting the outstanding role of UNFCCC at the UN climate change conference in Durban later this year.

 

Third, in the Presidential Statement, the Secretary-General is asked to provide conflict analysis and so-called ‘contextual information’ when climate change trends are endangering the process of consolidating peace. In this case, the mandate of the Security Council most obviously is at risk. It will be interesting to see how the required conflict analysis will be provided. However, regular peace and conflict assessments of climate change impacts can be a crucial step towards mainstreaming climate change in the field of foreign and security policy and contribute to strengthening crisis and conflict prevention.“ (Dennis Taenzler, in: Environment, Conflict, and Cooperation Platform Newsletter – published every two months.)