Earlier this week, the UN Security Council failed to pass a draft resolution that would have defined climate change as a “threat to peace” within Article 39 of the UN Charter. Under international law, this critical threat to peace determination acts as a key that opens the door to supplemental legal authorities. But this resolution, co-sponsored by Ireland and Niger, was vetoed by Russia, one of the Council’s five permanent members (“P5”). By defining climate change as a threat to the peace, the Council could have sent an important signal that climate change is squarely within its ambit while setting the stage for follow-on action.
As the high-level meetings of the 76th UN General Assembly kick off this week, climate change is front and center. Secretary-General Guterres led with a strong call to action, saying “The world must wake up,” to the, “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.” On Thursday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) prepares to debate climate security again. Ahead of the meeting, it’s useful to examine how the UN can drive action to match the ambition of past verbal commitments. How can it implement climate security practices to address the increasing risks to peace posed by rising temperatures? The 2021 World Climate and Security Report, released in June of this year, has some answers to this question, which we have excerpted below:
The UN system has long led the global effort on negotiated reductions in national emissions. With key nations and other multilateral institutions unable or unwilling to act, the UN process has persevered in keeping negotiated climate action on the global agenda. With political will now building within its most powerful members, the UN-led international system must seize the initiative to address all aspects of climate change drawing on the core tenets of its founding principles: peace, security, sovereignty, and human rights. It must adapt and update treaties and protocols that govern the global commons and shared environmental resources.
There are important steps all UN member states can take within their regional blocks and in the General Assembly to advocate for climate security integration into UN institutions and processes. These longer-term actions will require sustained commitment and coalition-building to enact. Broad-based support will be especially critical in the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee which has authority over budget and management issues. These steps include:
The official integration of climate security considerations into each UN mission’s semi-annual report to the Secretary General and the UNSC. Each Force Commander could also be tasked with including climate security considerations in their annual briefings.
The establishment of multiple regional Climate Security Crisis Watch Centers which feed into a UN-wide Climate Security Crisis Watch Center. Such centers would have the triple benefits of: cultivating a shared data driven community; giving regional organizations a role in the success of a global climate security data network; and connecting these organizations through their common mission.208
With a UNSC or UN General Assembly climate and security mandate, the Secretary General could exercise his authority to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary General for Climate Security as part of the Special Advisors, Representatives and Envoys construct. In the absence of a UN climate and security mandate, like-minded member states should encourage the Secretary General to appoint a Personal Representative for Climate Security.
Further building out an institutional structure through the creation of an office for climate and security within the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs at the Assistant Secretary General-level, a division for climate and security within the Department of Peace Operations, and a climate security unit within the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Any climate and security organizational entity established should work closely with the Secretary General’s Special Advisor for Climate Action, currently dual-hatted as the Assistant Secretary General for the UN Climate Action Team.
Incorporating climate security successfully will require the same level of discipline and rigor as are afforded other critical security issues within the UN system, including full integration into training, education, situational assessments, planning and operations. Institutionalizing analysis and action on climate security risks and opportunities throughout the UN will help the organization meet its mission to maintain international peace and security.
A new report released yesterday by the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group calls on the Australian Government to “prevent devastating climate impacts by mobilising all resources necessary to reach zero emissions as fast as possible,” starting with a comprehensive Whole-of-Nation Climate and Security Risk Assessment.
The impacts of climate change on security have been well documented: climate-fueled water and food insecurity contributed to armed conflicts in Syria, the Maghreb and the Sahel. The Arab Spring occurred after the spot price for wheat tripled due to reduced wheat supply in Russia and China following extreme climate events. Recent commentary has also highlighted climate-related food and water issues in Afghanistan that have contributed to insecurity in the region over recent decades.
The International Military Council on Climate and Security is pleased to welcome the Australian Security Policy Institute’s Climate and Security Policy Centre as an institutional partner. Led by Dr. Robert Glasser, the objectives of the ASPI Climate and Security Policy Centre include: evaluating the impact climate change will have on security in the Indo-Pacific region; developing practical, evidence-based policy recommendations and interventions to reduce climate change risks; increasing Australian and regional expertise, understanding and public awareness of the links between climate change and national security, and identifying the implications of these links for key Australian government stakeholders.
Earlier this month, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) released the World Climate and Security Report (WCSR) 2021, the second in an ongoing series of annual reports. The report dives into climate security risk assessments for a few hotspot regions, including Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, and also provides concrete tools to help policymakers address the growing unprecedented threats. A unique inclusion in this year’s report is a new Climate Security Risk Matrix and Methodology, which allows for evaluation of comparative climate risk among countries. In addition, the report features a Climate Security Risk Perception Survey, aggregating forecasts of climate risks from leading climate security experts in the world. These experts find climate security to be among the most pressing issues the world faces now, and a priority for future planning efforts. Between the Risk Matrix, the Survey, climate security case studies, and policy recommendations, the IMCCS Expert Group believes that policymakers will find the information needed to inform next steps in both preparing for and preventing climate security risks.
June 7, 2021 — Today the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) released its second annual World Climate and Security Report, which warns of the compound security threats posed by the convergence of climate change with other global risks, such as COVID-19. The report reveals that the increasing pace and intensity of climate hazards will strain military and security services around the world as they are called on to respond to climate-driven crises, while also facing direct climate threats to their own infrastructure and readiness. The authors also call on security institutions around the globe to act as “leading voices urging significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, given recent warnings about the catastrophic security implications of climate change under plausible climate scenarios.”
The report will be released during a virtual seminar at 10 AM ET/4 PM CET today (RSVP here: http://bit.ly/WCSR2021) featuring senior climate security experts from NATO, the United States, the UK, and Europe, including NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gotemoeller, Lt. Gen. Richard Nugee, UK Ministry of Defence, and Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Francois Bausch.
UPDATE (8 June 2021). See a recording of the report launch event below:
Urgent climate risks are impacting our world today in profound ways, as leaders from the United States and 40 other countries will discuss in the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate later this week. Climate change is no longer a “future” risk that will strike decades from now, but one that is already actively shaping the security landscape for all countries. These risks are now on track to increase significantly in response to the Earth’s continued warming trajectory, and will require new investments in resilience to keep communities safe. Forecasting surveys offer one tool for security actors to plan for this changing–and increasingly dangerous–future.
For the second year in a row, the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS Expert Group) surveyed top climate security experts on their predictions of how and when climate security risks are likely to progress (see last year’s survey here). Their responses offer insightful opinions about which risks this expert community deems the most likely to disrupt security in the years ahead, as well as how these security threats may interact with each other.
Climate change is not just an environmental issue in South Asia; it is also a major security concern. When overlaid with pre-existing domestic distress and inter-state rivalries that roil the region, it could well act as a tipping point that triggers or magnifies violent conflict. But appropriate policy responses, including institution-building, data-sharing and embracing a rapid low-carbon pathway, provide a way forward.
These are some of the conclusions we reached in a recent report published by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security titled “Climate Security and the Strategic Energy Pathway in South Asia.” The report examines the impact of climate change in three areas – the India-Pakistan rivalry, the China-India rivalry and within domestic security arenas in South Asia.
The United States has made food security a key theme of its UN Security Council Presidency for the month of March, and today will chair a UNSC open debate on the links between conflict and food security. In many ways, the Council’s focus on food security is a closely-related continuation of the UK’s emphasis on climate security during its presidency last month. The World Climate and Security Report 2020 identified the deep linkages between climate change consequences and food insecurity across all regions of the globe.
According to the Global Report on Food Crises for 2020, over 135 million people faced acute food insecurity in 2019. The report characterized what it considered significant drivers of acute food insecurity as: conflict (affecting 77 million people in 22 countries), weather extremes (affecting some 34 million people in 25 countries), and economic shocks (affecting 24 million people in eight countries).
By Rachel Fleishman, Shiloh Fetzek, Andrea Rezzonico, Sarang Shidore
Climate change is not news in Asia: Storms, floods, heat and wildfires regularly dominate headlines. Less appreciated, however, is how climate affects national and regional security – and the need for defense, foreign affairs and energy policymakers to unite with coordinated, systemic responses to prevent the worst outcomes. The authors of two reports on climate security challenges in South Asia and Southeast Asia by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security in Washington, DC, highlight their key findings.