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Delegates Call on UN Security Council to Act on Climate Change

Multiple delegates issued warnings Thursday to the UN Security Council that a warmer planet will also be more violent, and they called on members to make global warming a part of all UN peacekeeping operations.

“The impact of climate change is global and our collective security is at risk,” said Micheál Martin, prime minister of Ireland who organized the UN Security Council’s Open Debate on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security. “We have seen how climate change is already contributing to conflict in many parts of the world. Indeed, this Council has already acknowledged this, by addressing the adverse effects of climate change in the mandates of many peacekeeping operations.” 

Eighty percent of UN peacekeepers are deployed to regions of the world that are most exposed to climate change, Martin added.

“Our peacekeepers and civilian staff are already dealing with climate-related security risks in their activities,” he said. “If they are to be effective and deliver on the mandates that this Council has given them, we must also give them the necessary supports and tools to operate in these challenging environments.”

Martin chaired the meeting on Thursday as part of an effort by leaders and ministers to push for more UN action on climate change. The meeting comes just a month after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that found climate disruption caused by human activities is widespread and intensifying.

“Our window of opportunity to prevent the worst climate impacts is rapidly closing. No region is immune,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres in his remarks to open Thursday’s debate.

Guterres said that the G20 nations must lead the way in acting to mitigate further effects of climate change. He also called for the Security Council to commit to three priorities: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, breakthroughs in adaptation and resilience to address today’s climate impacts, and acknowledging that climate adaptation and peacebuilding reinforce each other. 

“For example, in the Lake Chad region, dialogue platforms for cooperatively managing natural resources, supported by the Peacebuilding Fund, have promoted reforestation and improved access to sustainable livelihoods,” Guterres said. “In West and Central Africa, cross-border projects have enabled dialogue and promoted more transparent management of scarce natural resources, a factor of peace.”

This will be especially important for managing water resources—which are key to security and peacekeeping initiatives, Guterres added.

“For example, in the Sava River Basin in Eastern Europe, transboundary water cooperation was the starting point of regional reconciliation and cooperation after the deadly war in the Balkans in the 1990s,” he said.

The UN Security Council first discussed climate change’s impact on security and peace in 2007. “But it remains off the Council’s agenda because of divisions among members,” according to The Washington Post. “That means there can be no legally binding resolutions or official requests for action.” 

Russia and China have objected to putting climate change on the council’s agenda because other UN and international forums are addressing it. In fact, the UN is hosting a climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“Both Russia and China, which is the world’s top emitter of climate-damaging pollution, stressed their countries’ commitments to cut emissions,” the Post reported. “So did [U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken] for the United States, the second largest carbon polluter, and India, the third-largest, which also said climate change doesn’t belong on the council agenda. Reenat Sandhu, a deputy Indian foreign secretary, said singling out one cause of conflict is ‘counterproductive.’”

Climate change and its ramifications for security is receiving more attention by global leadership, especially after the first half of 2021 that brought record-breaking storms, floods, hurricane seasons, and droughts to multiple parts of the world.

Recent analysis by the Center for Climate and Security found that “even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades,” according to Security Management’s March 2021 coverage. “Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century.” 

While the UN Security Council has not put climate change on its agenda, many nations are already directing their security forces to address climate risks by making their militaries—and the technologies they rely on—more resilient, such as transitioning to renewable energy from oil or diesel.

“Such efforts can directly and positively affect both the peace initiatives and the climate, as fuel transport is often targeted by adversaries,” according to analysis by the International Military Council on Climate and Security. “Transitioning to renewable energy also reduces the carbon footprint of military operations, which directly contributes to an overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”