Climate security risks are, by all interpretations, a global threat. But when it comes to setting a political climate security agenda, a handful of countries stand out. In an interview with Climate Diplomacy, Michaela Spaeth, Director for Energy and Climate Policy at the German Federal Foreign Office, highlights some of Germany’s goals and challenges in forwarding the issue during its 2019-20 membership in the UN Security Council.
To what extent has Germany contributed to the architecture of an international agenda on climate security?
During Germany’s membership in the UN Security Council in 2011-12, we started to raise the issue of climate security inside the organ. The process of agenda-setting began with the presidential statement in 2011. However, this was only the beginning of discussions, and it took a lot of determination and the engagement of other actors, particularly of the Swedish government, to follow-up on the issue. Meanwhile, Germany persisted in setting the climate security issue as a priority in other key fora, including during our presidencies at the G7 in 2015 and the G20 in 2017. We will continue to follow this path during our current membership in the UNSC and in the second half of 2020.
What is the rationale for your engagement?
Our pursuit is to mainstream matters of climate-related security in all resolutions and in the policy of the Security Council. The idea is to make sure that climate security threats are treated as a priority issue throughout international policy processes. We are actually taking up the work that our Swedish predecessors had started with the “mini mechanism”, and our aim is that the decisions of the new Council are well-informed about climate security threats. We are striving to ‘act before the house is on fire’ – to bring awareness about the risks and enable the Security Council to analyze them and intervene preemptively.
During our 2020 presidency, we will address climate-related security risks in the Council.. There are already some promising resolutions, such as for Mali and the resolution on Somalia, in which the climate-security nexus is mentioned. We hope it takes traction and continues to evolve. The Dominican Republic, which had the presidency in January, prepared a session jointly with us on climate security and, interestingly enough, it lasted eight hours, which is a good sign. The debate was a big step from where we were in 2011. We now intend to build up momentum and aim for further achievements in this direction.
Are there particular challenges that Germany expects to face in the Council?
There are still some countries which oppose a widening of the Security Council’s mandate. Russia, being a prime example, wants to keep the Council limited to classical hard security issues. But I think, in the long run, that can be overcome, because Russia is also feeling the impacts of climate change and its connection to conflict and insecurity. The same is true for China, although in its case there are better prospects for support. China is increasingly recognizing the connection between climate change and security, having conducted a study to understand how climate change impacts their country. A big unknown for us is, of course, the position of the USA. A further challenge might be brought forward by the G77, as some members of the group feel that this issue should be dealt with in the General Assembly rather than the Security Council.
Is there some way in which the climate community can support Germany’s efforts in bringing climate security to the UNSC agenda?
It would be particularly helpful if the UN Secretary-General António Guterres would publicly underline the connection between climate change and security. Such a referral would be very important to us, as it would provide great support to our work in the Council, as well as other international fora.
The interview was conducted by Raquel Munayer (adelphi) in the context of the Planetary Security Conference that took place 19-20 February 2019.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands has contributed $28 million to back FAO's work to boost the resilience of food systems in Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan - part of a new initiative to scale-up resilience-based development work in countries affected by protracted crises.
A group of five small countries have announced that they will launch negotiations on a new Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, which, if successful, would constitute the first international trade agreement focused solely on climate change and sustainable development. The initiative also breaks new ground by aiming to simultaneously remove barriers for trade in environmental goods and services and crafting binding rules to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Small countries can pioneer the development of new trade rules that can help achieve climate goals, but making credible commitments, attracting additional participants, and ensuring transparency will be essential ingredients for long-term success.
Ten years after committing to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, G20 countries still subsidise coal, oil and gas to the tune of around USD 150 billion annually. The process to try to move the G20 forward on this issue has been via peer review of fossil fuel subsidies, but these reviews need to be followed by action. Subsidy reforms could free up resources that could be channeled back into government programmes, which would be necessary to mitigate the impacts of rising energy prices on vulnerable populations and to help smooth reforms, and could also be spent on accelerating a clean energy transition.
Adapting to climate change and strengthening resilience are becoming priorities for the international community – however, they require greater ambition in climate policy. 107 governments and numerous international organisations have endorsed a call for action on raising ambition at the United Nations Climate Change Summit on 23rd September 2019. Following the summit, the Global Commission on Adaptation will begin its Year of Action to meet the climate challenges ahead. The Year of Action is here to accelerate climate adaptation around the world, to improve human well-being and to drive more sustainable economic development and security.