A resolution for a peaceful climate: Opportunities for the UN security council

A resolution for a peaceful climate: Opportunities for the UN security council

The risk of human suffering is increasing sharply across the world. Stark inequality, shifting demographics, resource scarcity and extreme weather are each providing fertile ground for conflict. But scientific evidence shows that the worst is still to come; the Earth is projected to warm to 2.2°C above pre-industrial levels by the middle of this century1. If human societies do not change tack extreme resource scarcity will exacerbate all challenges facing humanity. As these risks gather pace, ongoing crises cannot overwhelm humanity’s capacity to prepare and become resilient to rising climate insecurity.

In recent years, faced with growing climate-related risks, the United Nations and its member states have come together to think differently about global governance. The years 2015 and 2016 saw the world’s governments come to agreements and pass resolutions that mark a new future for the UN peace and security architecture. In 2017, as the new UN Secretary-General António Guterres takes office, these agreements will fi lter through the UN’s operating entities and strengthen the UN. The UN Security Council (UNSC) itself will be required to look more holistically at the drivers of conflict, and mobilize the UN system to deliver preventive action to attain peace and security.

Two considerations shape the continuing debate. The first is the common thread shared by recent advances in global governance: a preventive, sustainable and structural pursuit of peace. To manage and contain current crises, concerted investments in conflict prevention and sustainable development are critical. The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015, and the Sustaining Peace Resolution jointly approved by the UNSC and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2016 each chart growing global agreement in favour of preventive action2.

The second consideration is the gap between stated need and actual performance. World leaders have labelled climate change the greatest threat to global security3. However, engagement by the UNSC has not been commensurate with the scale of the threat; nor has it taken a systematic approach. A series of debates have raised awareness of security impacts posed by climate change but few actions have been mandated. Realizing these transformational policies will require new operating models for the UN institutions and agencies.

Before the Paris Agreement was adopted there were concerns that UNSC interventions would result in prescriptive mitigation measures that would interfere with sovereign development choices. The consensus embodied in the Paris Agreement gives confidence to a managed mitigation approach, without the need for a punitive role for the UNSC. These developments open up opportunities for the UNSC to expand its focus towards managing the impacts of climate change. With or without new approaches, climate impacts will be on the UNSC’s agenda. The consequences of resource scarcity are daily agenda items. However, a preventive approach will require a new practice to enable the UNSC to respond to climate risk information and mobilize response action.

This policy brief offers suggestions for that new practice and specifically for the role of the UNSC in preventive action on climate security as Sweden takes up its membership of the UNSC for the period 2017–18. First, it explores the understanding of climate security following the Paris Agreement. Second, it examines the history of the climate debate in the UNSC. Third, it considers how the UNSC has addressed other conflict prevention approaches in order to understand possible analogues for interventions on climate security. Finally, the policy brief proposes recommendations for actions to be undertaken in the coming period that would enable the UNSC to take a stronger role in ameliorating climate impacts.

Continue reading: A resolution for a peaceful climate: Opportunities for the UN security council

1 Chen, H. et al., Food, Water, Energy, Climate Outlook, Perspectives from 2016 (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change: Cambridge, MA, 2016).

2 United Nations, General Assembly, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1, 25 Sep. 2015; Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), opened for signature 22 Apr. 2016, entered into force 4 Nov. 2016; and UN Security Council Resolution 2282, 27 Apr. 2016.

3 See e.g. Rothe, D., Securitizing Global Warming: A Climate of Complexity (Routledge: Abingdon and New York, NY, 2016); Remarks by Ban Ki-moon at Climate Leaders Summit, Washington, DC, 11 Apr. 2014, ; Ghazi, W. G., Muniruzzaman, A. N. M. and Singh, A. K., Climate Change and Security in South Asia: Cooperating for Peace, Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC) Paper no. 2 (GMACCC/Institute for Environmental Security/European Climate Foundation: May 2016); and Goldberg, J., ‘The Obama doctrine’, The Atlantic, Apr. 2016

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