UNSC Debates Climate Change Impact on Peace, Security and Development

Alula Berhe Kidani

On 25 January 2019, Speakers warned the UN Security Council (UNSC) of increasing threats to peace, security and development as a result of climate change during a debate on the topic. Participants called for urgent action to reduce emissions and invest in climate risk prevention and management to address the multitude of security impacts caused by climate change.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, emphasized that the risks associated with climate-related disasters “do not represent a scenario of some distant future” but are “already a reality for millions of people around the globe – and they are not going away.” DiCarlo underscored the need to focus on three areas: developing stronger analytical capacity with integrated risk assessment frameworks; collecting stronger evidence to enable best practices on climate risk prevention and management to be replicated in the field; and building and reinforcing partnerships to leverage existing capacities within the UN system and externally. She concluded by underscoring the urgent need for action and commitment to placing the most marginalized and vulnerable people at the center of efforts.
UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Achim Steiner, who delivered remarks by phone, shared UNDP’s efforts to tackle climate change, including efforts to establish a climate security mechanism to increase awareness of the role of climate-related security threats and to develop a risk assessment and response framework. Steiner warned that the world “is not keeping up with the challenge” but has the “data and the means” to successfully tackle climate change. He underscored the need for, inter alia: ambitious national climate action pledges; emission reductions, including through sustainable land and forest management; and increased investment in adaptation and resilience, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable and exposed populations. Steiner called on the UNSC to recognize the scientific and empirical evidence on climate impacts and leverage all possible measures to slow global warming.
The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Chief Scientist, Pavel Kabat, briefed Member States on climate and extreme weather issues, explaining that climate change “is increasingly regarded as a national security threat.” He said climate change is “undercutting progress in the SDGs” and has “a multitude of security impacts – rolling back the gains in nutrition and access to food; heightening the risk of wildfires and exacerbating air quality challenges; increasing the potential for water conflict; leading to more internal displacement and migration.” Kabat emphasized WMO’s commitment to support the UN and Member States with expert information and “cutting-edge science” for informed decision making, noting that WMO is increasing its support to the UN Operations and Crisis center through a dedicated advisor at UN Headquarters.
A youth representative, Lindsay Getschel, asked the UNSC to pass a resolution officially recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security. She further requested the UNSC to conduct an assessment on how climate change impacts youth, and called for UN missions around the world to reduce their reliance on fossil fuel energy with the aim of using 50 percent of renewable energy by 2025 and for regular reports to the UN Secretary-General on progress.
The UNSC first examined the linkages between climate change and security in April 2007, followed by an open debate on the topic in July 2011. In March 2017, the UNSC adopted resolution 2349 on the need to address climate-related risks to tackle conflict in the Lake Chad basin. In July 2018, the UNSC held a debate on “understanding and addressing climate-related security risks,” which was attended by over 70 Member States. The January 2019 debate represented the first official briefing by WMO to the UNSC on extreme weather and climate issues.
The Dominican Republic, who chaired the meeting, indicated that the impact of climate change on peace and security will be a priority of its presidency of the UNSC.

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