24 October 2023

A New Agenda for Peace and the Climate Emergency

The following text is a shortened version of an article written by Cedric de Coning, Gracsious Maviza and Kheira Tarif. It was published by the International Peace Institute (IPI) in The Global Observatory on 25 September 2023. Read the original article here.

Perhaps more than any other world leader, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has consistently integrated climate change into his assessments and response strategies. His New Agenda for Peace policy brief, published in July, adds to this output, recognizing that climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation are producing disastrous consequences. Six of the nine planetary boundaries–processes and systems that maintain planetary stability–have already been crossed, and some of these changes are irreversible. As an input for the 2024 Summit of the Future, the New Agenda serves as a stark warning that the damage being done now will have significant implications for humanity’s future wellbeing, safety, and stability.

The policy brief points out that climate change is also generating social dynamics that will increase social tensions with greater risk of insecurity. The Secretary-General argues that “the uneven suffering created by the effects of climate change ranks among the greatest injustices of this world. The most vulnerable communities…the least developed countries, and those affected by conflict, bear the brunt of a crisis that they did not create.”

The brief notes that rising sea levels and coastal erosion are a risk to coastal communities—including many of the world’s most populous cities—and an existential threat to some small island developing states. The New Agenda warns that such changes can also lead to “new or resurgent disputes related to territorial and maritime claims.” It also acknowledges the impacts of climate change on increasing natural resource competition, which exacerbates social tensions and erodes social cohesion. These are hard- and human-security risks that climate change and related environmental degradation pose to humanity.

The New Agenda also warns that steps taken to mitigate against, and adapt to, the effects of climate change can cause harm if not managed properly. There is a risk that projects aimed at reducing emissions and the negative effects of climate change can, despite their good intentions, have destabilizing effects if they are not sufficiently conflict-sensitive and deny communities and societies the agency to chart their own futures.

The New Agenda for Peace sets out what needs to be done to prevent violence and manage these risks. To tackle the environmental challenges posed by climate change and the inequalities it causes, the Secretary-General calls for ambitious mitigation and adaptation bolstered by adequate climate finance including the implementation of the loss and damage agenda, and emphasizes the need for climate action that promotes social cohesion and sustainability grounded in human rights.

Recommendations to Address Climate, Peace, and Security

To prevent violence and manage the risk of civil and state conflict, the Secretary-General argues for a renewed focus on multilateral diplomacy, a new commitment to prioritizing prevention, and investment in mechanisms that manage disputes and improve trust. This will require strong partnerships and a new global peace and security architecture in which regional frameworks and organizations play a more prominent role in a new era of networked multilateralism. The New Agenda includes several specific recommendations for how to achieve these goals, while also warning that, in a rapidly warming world, a business-as-usual approach will fail. The Secretary-General calls for innovative solutions to address the climate crisis, including ones that focus on the differentiated impacts on women and youth and protect the most vulnerable.

1. Recognize climate, peace, and security as a political priority, and for the UN Security Council to systematically address the peace and security implications of climate change in the mandates of special political missions, peace operations, and other situations on its agenda. 

2. Increase cooperation between multilateral bodies to ensure that climate action and peacebuilding reinforce each other.

3. The IPCC should establish a dedicated expert group on climate action, resilience, and peacebuilding in order to develop recommendations on integrated approaches to climate, peace, and security. This expertise would support stronger evidence-based engagement at the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, where the expert group can advise, in writing and in briefings, on specific country situations or thematic issues on the agendas of these bodies.

The Secretary-General also recommends that there should be a new funding window within the Peacebuilding Fund for more risk-tolerant climate finance investments. 

Finally, the Secretary-General used the New Agenda brief to recommend the establishment of regional and sub-regional hubs on climate, peace, and security that can help the UN system to connect national and regional experiences, provide technical advice, and help accelerate responses.

What the Policy Brief Missed

Three elements were missing from the New Agenda for Peace’s treatment of the climate emergency. First, the UN system and other international and regional multilateral forums need to engage much more systematically with research communities in the Global North and South. Second, member states, the UN system, and other international and regional multilateral forums can invest in better preparing their diplomats and officials to respond to the climate emergency by becoming more climate literate. Finally, the UN system and other international and regional multilateral bodies can cooperate more systematically with research institutions and other specialized organizations and networks that are actively accompanying, advising, and helping member states, communities, and institutions to develop, implement, and evaluate conflict-sensitive and peace positive climate mitigation, adaptation, and environmental peacebuilding projects and initiatives.

Cedric de Coning is a research professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and a senior advisor to the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). Gracsious Maviza is a Research Scientist, the Regional Lead for Southern Africa within the CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security Team and the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT, and a Research Associate with the University of Johannesburg. Kheira Tarif is a researcher in the Climate Change and Risk Programme of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

This article is part of a series reflecting on the July 2023 publication of the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief, “A New Agenda for Peace.”

Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten