The first-ever resolution calling for stepped-up international efforts to understand and respond to the implications of climate change for peace and security was vetoed by Russia on Monday, 14 December. The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to deliver a report on the security implications of climate change for the regions and countries on the Council’s agenda by December 2023. It also asks UN peacekeeping and political missions to pay attention to climate-related risks in their areas of operation.
Russia has vetoed a first-of-its-kind UN security council resolution casting the climate crisis as a threat to international peace and security – a vote that sank a years-long effort to make global heating more central to decision-making in the UN’s most powerful body.
Spearheaded by Ireland and Niger, the proposal called for “incorporating information on the security implications of climate change” into the council’s strategies for managing conflicts and into peacekeeping operations and political missions, at least sometimes.
The measure also asked the UN secretary-general to make climate-related security risks “a central component” of conflict prevention efforts and to report on how to address those risks in specific hotspots.
The council has occasionally discussed the security implications of climate change since 2007 and it has passed resolutions that mention destabilizing effects of warming in specific places, such as various African countries and Iraq. But Monday’s resolution would have been the first devoted to climate-related security danger as an issue of its own.
Stronger storms, rising seas, more frequent floods and droughts and other effects of warming could inflame social tensions and conflict, potentially “posing a key risk to global peace, security and stability”, the proposed resolution said. Of the UN’s 193 member countries, 113 supported it, including 12 of the council’s 15 members.
But India and veto-wielding Russia voted no, while China abstained.
Their envoys said the issue should remain with broader UN groups, such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Adding climate change to the security council’s purview would only deepen global divisions that were pointed up by last month’s climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, the opponents said. The talks ended in a deal that recommitted to a key target for limiting warming and broke some new ground but fell short of the UN’s three big goals for the conference.
Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia complained that Monday’s proposed resolution would turn “a scientific and economic issue into a politicized question”, divert the council’s attention from what he called “genuine” sources of conflict in various places and give the council a pretext to intervene in virtually any country on the planet.
“This approach would be a ticking time bomb,” he said.
India and China questioned the idea of tying conflict to climate and they predicted trouble for the Glasgow commitments if the security council – a body that can impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeeping troops – started weighing in more.
“What the security council needs to do is not a political show,” Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun said.
The measure’s supporters said it represented a modest and reasonable step to take on an issue of existential importance.
“Today was an opportunity for the council to recognize, for the first time, the reality of the world that we are living in and that climate change is increasing insecurity and instability,” Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said. “Instead, we have missed the opportunity of action and we look away from the realities of the world we are living in.”
Proponents vowed to keep the council’s eye on climate risks.
“The force of the veto can block the approval of a text”, said Niger’s ambassador, Abdou Abarry, “but it cannot hide our reality.”
This article was first published in The Guardian on 13 December 2021. For the latest news on PSI coverage on the UNSC debate on Climate security read "Our window of opportunity is rapidly closing’: UNSC open debate on climate security"