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Benjamin Pohl and Stella Schaller, adelphi
The UNSC debate on climate disasters and security 25.01.2019.
The UN Security Council debate focused on addressing impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security. More than 80 speakers took the floor, 15 of them at ministerial level. | © Stella Schaller (adelphi)

On 25 January 2019, the UN Security Council held an open debate to discuss the security implications of climate-related disaster events. The meeting, initiated by the Dominican Republic, underscored the global nature of climate-related disasters. Most speakers highlighted the need for better climate risk management as an important contribution to safeguarding international peace and security. The debate marks the beginning of a year in which climate security ranks high on the UN’s agenda.

The Dominican Republic, ranking 10th among the countries most affected by extreme weather-related disasters, joined the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 1 January 2019 as a non-permanent member and immediately assumed its month-long presidency. The island nation, initiated an open debate “Addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security”. The corresponding concept note it circulated drew attention to how climate change not only undermines human security, but can also exacerbate, prolong or spark conflict. It went on to argue the UNSC’s primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, implies an obligation to integrate climate-related risks into its discussions and operations around international security.

As the debate showed, the adverse impacts of climate disasters on peace are a global issue, affecting all countries. Caribbean low-lying island states are particularly vulnerable to climate-related disasters and associated security risks. Hurricanes, storms, sea level rise and floods take a heavy toll on people’s livelihoods. Meanwhile, Central America, the Middle East, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa all recently experienced protracted displacement and food insecurity as severe droughts reduced crop yields and water supplies. 2018 also saw severe disasters relating to extreme weather in the US, Europe and Asia.

The number of delegations and high-level political leaders participating in the debate reflect great interest in the topic: More than 80 took the floor, 15 of which were headed by ministers.

8 hours of debate yielded a number of takeaway messages, agreed upon by most countries who took the floor:

  1. Climate change is a concrete and existential threat to humanity, and developing countries are particularly vulnerable. Mitigating climate-related disaster impacts benefits global stability and conflict prevention.
  2. The entire UN system needs to be engaged on climate change. The UNSC’s specific role is to work on the security impacts of climate change, and is complementary to the mandate and actions of the UNFCCC and other UN bodies.
  3. The UN needs to increase its analytical capacity to better understand climate-fragility risks and formulate evidence-based response strategies. Progress on more comprehensive understanding will depend on building adequate capacity in UN agencies, UN regional coordinator offices, regional organizations and Member States.
  4. Many delegations called for the improvement of early warning systems and the conduction of integrated climate risk assessments. The new “climate security mechanism”, supported by UNDP, DPA, and UNEP in collaboration with practitioners from within the UN system and beyond, was acknowledged by a number of delegations as the first step in this direction.
  5. Many countries welcomed UNSC resolution 2349, addressing the role of climate change in the violent conflict in the Lake Chad basin. The presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel (S/PRST/2018/3) and the resolutions on Somalia (S/Res/2408), Mali (S/Res/2423), and Darfur (S/Res/2429) were also mentioned as positive examples for targeted climate security action by the Security Council.
  6. Many delegations emphasized the climate security nexus should feature regularly in the Council and that there should be regular briefings on climate risks and progress made.

Most countries welcomed the debate, agreed that climate change poses serious threats and called for the Security Council to engage more systematically on this issue. However, some delegations questioned whether engagement was appropriate, citing knowledge gaps and doubts concerning the link between climate change and security. Some argued the UNSC should focus more on political issues directly relevant conflicts, given its specific mandate as opposed to that of the General Assembly and the UNFCCC. This would help it refrain from encroaching on the tasks of other UN institutions. 

As the resolutions referencing climate change show, climate security has become more prominent on the UNSC agenda over the past two years, not least due to the efforts of Sweden and the Netherlands in pushing for appropriate climate risk management. With Germany now a non-permanent member of the Security Council and its commitment to prioritize climate security during its term, 2019 and 2020 will see further engagement of the Security Council on climate security. In 2018, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas together with Nauru co-initiated a Group of Friends on Climate and Security, which recently grew to more than 40 member states from all of the UN’s five regional groups. Building on advances made by Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, the UK, Ukraine, and now the Dominican Republic, Germany seeks to help enable the UN system to better respond to the interlinkages between climate change and peacebuilding, and to develop greater understanding and capacity to address climate-fragility risks on the ground.

 

The Dominican Republic is expected to publish a Chair’s Summary during the coming weeks.

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