14 July 2021

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

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 cognisant to 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 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 on Informal Expert Group to push for greater focus on the UNSC attention on climate security. 

More widely, the report praises the integration of climate security within the wider UN architecture. Examples such as the assignment of specific climate security advisors to UN missions in the Sahel and Somalia, the growth of the Climate Security Mechanism and precise reference to the role of climate change in worsening security in mandate extensions for UN missions in Cyprus and Iraq are all seen as indicators of progress being made faster in the UN at large compared to the Council.

Indeed, the report has a high amount of self-criticality by openly discussing the headwinds and reasons why climate security is not more entrenched at a Council level. The issue is not around the recognition of climate change, but its impact on security. Several states consider climate change above all a civilian issue and they fear domination by the security sector, once it receives a mandate. By officially recognising climate security as a risk, the Security Council may be empowered to prosecute or levy sanctions at states deemed to be contributing more to climate change for example. This is why Russia and China, some of the largest emitters, are sensitive to any changes in recognition and thus act as conscious objectors to the growing movement. Finally, there are divisions between states regarding the scientific or empirical link between climate security and worsening security situations. The criticisms seem to be driven by the ‘Group of Friends’ disagreements with Russia, China and India on their positions on the links between climate and security. 

Moving forward, the report recognises the seismic nature of an American shift in position, with US President Joe Biden's 180 degree policy reverse from Donald Trump has seen the US taking a lead in embedding climate security into the UNSC focus. This has helped push more climate change language to be considered in mission extensions in Haiti, Afghanistan and Central African Republic. More funding is expected to be given to embedding environmental peace-building and climate security experts across UN missions in Africa as well as further political lobbying to formalise climate security into the UNSC's risk matrix and subsequent purview.

To read the full report, click HERE.

To read the PSI's latest reporting on climate security and the UNSC, click HERE.

Photo Credits: UN Photo/Flickr.com