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UN Security Council discusses climate change’s impact on peace, stability

24 February 2021 Keiron Greenhalgh

The UN Security Council discussed climate change's impact on global security and peace 23 February, but no resolution recognizing global warming as a threat to peace and stability is on the way after Russia warned against such a step.

Russia, one of the five permanent members of the council who can veto any resolutions, believes the Security Council to be the wrong place to tackle climate change, according to Vasily Nebenzya, the country's permanent representative to the UN, who added that imposing such a connection on an automatic basis "would be dangerous."

Climate change was not the root cause of conflicts, and considering climate change as such was a distraction from the true root causes, Nebenzya said, adding that the council and world leaders should not ignore other factors such political and socio-economic matters that have a greater impact on conflict.

Resolutions are formal expressions of the council's will; sometimes they can lead to actions as severe as sanctions or even interventions.

Moscow's stance came in stark contrast to that of three of its fellow permanent members: the UK, France, and the US — historically the council's most vocal member.

The US plans to work with "likeminded" members of the Security Council to focus the body's attention on the consequences for peace and security of climate change, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said.

"We are now compelled to do more than talk about climate-related security risks, we have to work together to understand them before they wreak havoc, we have to develop stronger early warning systems, we have to mainstream the climate crisis into every aspect of our public and private sector, and of decision making," Kerry said.

"We bury our heads in the sand at our own peril. It is time to start treating the climate crisis like the urgent security threat that it is. This is literally the challenge of all our generations," he added.

Johnson, Kerry see council as right forum

The UK was the driving force behind the discussion of the topic by the council, using a rare opportunity as the chair of the Security Council to do so. The UK - even as a permanent member of the council - had not chaired a Security Council meeting since 1992.

"Whether you like it or not, it is a matter of when, not if, your country and your people will have to deal with the security impacts of climate change," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his opening remarks for the meeting. "So let's do what this council was created to do and let's show the kind of global leadership that is needed to protect the peace, the security, and the stability of our nations, of our regions and of our world."

"… it is absolutely clear that climate change is a threat to our collective security and the security of our nations. And I know there are people around the world who will say this is all kind of 'green stuff' from a bunch of tree-hugging tofu munchers and not suited to international diplomacy and international politics. I couldn't disagree more profoundly," said Johnson.

With the UK chairing the meeting, Johnson was able to call on a well-known countryman for support. Environmentalist David Attenborough gave a briefing.

"We are a single truly global species whose greatest threats are shared and whose security must ultimately come from acting together in the interests of us all," Attenborough said.

Climate change was a threat to global security that can only be dealt with by unparalleled levels of global co-operation, he said. The crisis has compelled the inhabitants of the planet to question economic models and where value was; invent entirely new industries; recognize the moral responsibility that wealthy nations have to the rest of the world; and put a value on nature that goes far beyond money.

He said the past 12 months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic had shown the benefits of co-operation.

Attenborough said the challenge climate change poses was the greatest the international community had faced since the end of World War II.

Kerry, meantime, framed it as the greatest economic opportunity "in modern history," one not available since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, in order to tackle what he said the US Pentagon viewed as "among the most complex and compelling security issues that I think we've ever faced."

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for the creation of a UN special envoy for climate and security, noting it was a race against time.

The head of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, agreed. He said: "2021 is a make or break year for collective action against the climate emergency. The climate emergency is the defining issue of our time."

"Climate disruption is a crisis amplifier and multiplier. Where climate change dries up rivers, reduces harvests, destroys critical infrastructure and displaces communities, it exacerbates the risks of instability and conflict," he added.

Guterres said a four-part battle plan for the climate crisis was required to preserve peace and security.

The first half of the plan, he said, involved a greater focus on prevention through "strong, ambitious climate action" plus taking immediate action to protect countries and communities from severe events, including by boosting funding substantially.

The second half involved embracing a "concept of security that puts people at its center," noting the impact on security of non-traditional threats such the COVID-19 pandemic on lives around the globe, plus deepening partnerships beyond the UN system.

Climate change not a direct cause of conflict: India

However, Russia was not alone in playing down the impact of climate change on security. While admitting it was a defining issue of current times, Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said most situations were more complex and that climate change alone did not directly or inherently cause conflict.

Javadekar was one of a number of attendees who took Western powers to task over promises to provide $100 billion to less developed countries for climate action. He also joined many other participants in calling for support for women through climate adaptation measures, noting the burden of climate change was overwhelmingly placed on one gender.

Alongside the permanent members, there are 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. India is currently one of the 10. The Security Council's permanent members are China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US.

Posted 24 February 2021 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor


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