12 December 2018

Where the world stands on climate security? A summary of the UNSC debate.

“Climate change is inextricably linked to some of the most pressing security challenges of our time,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, echoing many permanent and temporary members of the United Nations Security Council. This debate, brought forward under the Swedish Presidency of the Council, aimed at bringing forth the nexus between climate change and security, not only in a context-specific manner like previously acknowledged but for the globe as a whole. To do so, several concrete proposals were advanced to guide the efforts of the 15-members and of other United Nations entities toward an efficient answer for this increasingly critical issue.

The proposals put forward by the willing members could be summed up in 4 major aims:

  • To further the recognition of the effects of climate change on global security.
  • To appoint a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Climate and Security to direct efforts and provide early warnings to the Council.
  • To establish an institutional home for climate security within the United Nations system to bolster the global, national and epistemic efforts at developing hubs of knowledge and practices.
  • To raise greater voice for the countries on the frontline to share their struggle but also their successes at tackling the negative direct and indirect effects of the changing climate.

To act concretely upon the phenomenon of climate change is crucial since vulnerable nations are already facing concrete and disastrous effects. These realities have been vividly expressed by Hindou Ibrahim of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, who stated how natural resources pressure and dependency on the environment affect every day’s life in many parts of Africa. She made particular reference to the Sahel/Lake Chad region, where it has been an entry point for groups like Boko Haram which gluttonously feed off the communities’ desperation. This stance has been supported by many experts.

His Excellency Hassan al-Janabi, Minister for Water Resources of Iraq offered a similar narrative by stating that the havoc of war brought upon by ISIL has shattered already degraded food, land and water security, opening the door to more instances of violent competition for resources across the region and further displacement of persons. Referring to the Hague Declaration on Planetary Security toward supporting sustainable water strategies in Iraq, his speech was in continuity with the informal dialogue held between the European nations and Iraq. Indeed, the Minister warned about a potential worsening of the regional relations as competition over the main rivers is increasingly felt. The absence of bilateral or multilateral agreements on water sharing "is contributing to potential conflicts that could be and should be avoided.” A reality which is quite tangible on the ground as many reports state.

By emphasising on such prominent terror groups, the priority to act early and decisively has been highlighted, but it should not underscore another dire reality faced by the Small Island states brought to the Councils attention by the Prime Minister of Curacao, on the behalf of the Netherlands. He highlighted the crucial need to converge efforts of UN institutions but also of the intervening actors around the globe to create actionable ideas based on a large knowledge-based hub of practitioners, referring to the Planetary Security Conference as a prime example.

How effective were these interventions toward a greater involvement of the UN Security Council, as felt by the members and, more importantly, the permanent members who own a right of veto? Three camps seem to have arisen:

  • The willing one: The United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Ethiopia, Côte-d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea Poland, Nauru and the Maldives (on the Behalf of the Small Islands)
  • The interested one: USA, China, Peru, Kuwait and Sudan
  • The unwilling one: Russia, Bolivia

Among the permanent members, Russia has risen as the main hardliner against addressing climate security in the Council. Indeed, Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, did highlight climate change as "a grave threat" but was unwilling to welcome a greater Council involvement on the issue due to their lack of expertise on the matter and the fear of duplicating structures and mandates among the diverse UN institutions. This position has been echoed by other non-permanent members such as Bolivia, and to a lesser extent, Peru, Kuwait and Sudan who claimed that funding from the developed nations was their priority before accepting an institutional arrangement for climate security. Consequently, an unwillingness of Russia raises the fear of a veto if they cannot be convinced to abstain.

 China reacted more positively, which points towards a greater acceptance from the main power at the council. The Chinese delegation welcomed a careful possibility to develop a new and inclusive concept to tackle all climate security risks, that allows the Council to respond to any crisis. Such developments might allow for an unexpected alliance to further efforts and finally get rid of the recurring perspective that climate security is a western stance rather than a global effort.