Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) convened a meeting to discuss whether climate change constituted a security issue that the international community must address. The issue was put on the UNSC’s agenda at the behest of Germany, whose currently holding the monthly rotating presidency of the Council. It also comes as a widespread famine, which some claim is caused in part by climate change, hits Somalia adding to the already complex issues in the country.
The question over whether climate change constitutes a threat to global peace and security, which are the areas that fall under the purview of the UNSC, divided the member nations of the UNSC roughly along the lines of the Western countries, which answered in the affirmative, and Russia and the Third World countries, which tended to be skeptical on the matter.
Susan Rice, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, gave a forceful speech on the issue as negotiations were gridlocked yesterday. In the speech, Rice said, “Climate change has very real implications for peace and security. They are as powerful as they are complex, and many of them are already upon us.” She also cited as specific examples the 1990’s and current crises in Somalia, as well as the conflict in Darfur. U.N. Security General Ban Ki-Moon made similar points in a speech he gave at the meeting, in which he said, “Make no mistake…. Climate change is real; it is accelerating in a dangerous manner; and it not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security.”
Some of the skepticism from the detractors, it should be noted, was over whether it would be useful for the UNSC to take up the issue of climate change. After all, a plethora of other U.N. bodies already deal with the implications of climate change. Russian envoy Alexander Pankin reflected this view reasonably well when he said: “We believe that involving the Security Council in a regular review of the issue of climate change will not bring any added value whatsoever and will merely lead to further increased politicization of this issue and increased disagreements between countries.” This sentiment was echoed by the representatives from Brazil and India.
Rice, however, challenged this view directly in her speech: “While we recognize the essential work of the wider UN system and other partners in tackling the broader dimensions of climate change around the world, we also believe strongly that this Council has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate.”
In the end, the UNSC issued a statement that, while not as forceful as the text proposed by Western states, nevertheless concluded that there were “possible security implications of climate change.”