The world has moved away from a denial mindset on climate change, yet it is still distant from pronouncing it as a “security threat” on a global platform. The year 2021 ended with the diplomatic failure of states to pass a climate change resolution in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). On December 13, 2021, the UNSC rejected the draft resolution that proposed the inclusion of climate-related security threats in the conflict prevention strategies of the Council. The draft resolution was co-authored by Ireland and Niger and was among the second most supported resolution at the UNSC. Favoured by 12 states, the draft resolution was vetoed and rejected by Russia and India, respectively, whereas China abstained from voting.
The unsuccessful attempt to pass the draft climate resolution was supposed to define climate change as a security threat, as stated by article 39 of the United Nations (UN) Charter. Article 39 of chapter VII has left defining what constitutes a “threat to peace” to the UNSC members, who will then recommend measures to restore peace according to articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter. The draft resolution was a formal effort for declaring climate change a threat to global peace and stability. The co-penholders of the draft resolution asserted that the mounting effects of climate change could aggravate and prolong the social tensions among groups leading to conflict escalation.
The draft resolution attempted to recognise the adverse effects of climate change in the form of floods, droughts, water scarcity, land degradation that further exacerbate the insecurity in agriculture, energy and water sectors of developing and under-developed states especially. The key recommendations and propositions of the draft resolution to the Secretary-General were:
- To formulate a country or region-specific report entailing security implications posed by climate change effects as well as recommendations for addressing and preventing climate-related security threats within a framework of two years.
- To include information of the report on climate change security implications and recommendations during thematic reporting to the UNSC sessions.
- To integrate climate security threats as a central component in conflict prevention strategies of the UN.
Furthermore, the draft resolution suggested the UN peacekeeping missions enhance their capacity to deal with climate-related issues. It was also proposed that UN country teams and peace missions have appropriate training on climate security threats and incorporate climate-related security risks in their assessment reports and conflict prevention activities.
Failure of Climatisation of UNSC
Climate change has become a part of open debates in UNSC since 2007. From debating the climate-energy-security nexus, member states have discussed climate security issues prevailing in the Sahel region of Africa. The securitisation of climate change has been happening in Arria formula meetings of the UNSC, during which growing adverse effects of climate change have been framed as a threat to peace and challenge to conflict prevention. The recent development was an attempt to officially climatise the UNSC. Climatisation is a process of defining and framing any issue within the realm of climate change. Instead of constructing new ideas, climatisation recontextualises or renames an old phenomenon by linking any security aspect or institutional mandate with climate change.
Russia’s veto at the UNSC has put the world on the back seat, especially when climate change has been declared as “code red for humanity” by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Throughout the sessions, India, Russia, and China, the top climate polluters, were against categorising climate change as a security threat at the UNSC platform. While vetoing the draft resolution, Russia argued that UNSC is not the correct platform to discuss climate issues and maintained that there is no direct and automatic link between climate and security. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, further debated that by expanding the UNSC’s agenda and securitising climate change, the Council’s focus will get diverted from the deep-rooted issues concerning international security. Building on Russia’s argument, India commented that since climate change is a universal concern, it should be addressed at a platform where every state is represented, such as UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Previously, these states have declared climate change as a threat multiplier and developmental issue.
Considering the support given by the majority states to the draft resolution, the democratic aspect of India’s argument does not hold strong ground. The focus of the draft resolution was on the monitoring and reporting part of climate security by integrating it in conflict prevention strategies, which would have helped the world better understand the dynamics and implications of climate change, especially in climate-vulnerable countries. Secondly, the sceptics’ apprehension on institutional duplication and marginalisation of climate agendas of UNFCCC is far fetched as the language of resolution does not in any way propose making UNSC another platform for global governance. UNSC’s role in preventing conflict is only limited to operational measures and does not expand its mandate towards structural prevention. Furthermore, the institutional duplication could have happened if UNFCCC had addressed the climate security nexus in its agenda. So far, UNFCCC has not discussed the security implications of climate change. Besides, the Paris Agreement (articles 7 and 8) also encourages the formation of new institutional arrangements on climate change.
Russia’s veto at the UNSC has put the world on the back seat, especially when climate change has been declared as “code red for humanity” by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Where climatisation has its strategic and instrumental advantages for many states, especially those climate-affected and has provided many states with political gains by getting them a seat at the UNSC, this resolution would have played a more symbolic role. Including climate change, among other variables that define “threat to peace”, would have given political momentum for improving global climate governance. Further, it would have provided the world with real-time security issues that climate change threatens. However, it was quite encouraging to see the majority voting in favour. This resolution has furthered the debate on climate security and might bring the critics to a consensus in future through continuous diplomatic efforts. Looking forward, the supporters of the resolution should further strengthen the Climate Security Mechanism (CSM). CSM could play an imminent role by gathering evidence and improving its capacity-building role. CSM assessments might bring all UN states together on addressing climate security.