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Oops, They Did It Again! Climate Change in the UN Security Council

The Security Council in session at the UN headquarters in New York

First, the aim is to ensure a continuity of the discussion on climate change as a threat multiplier at the highest level. In the a concept note of the Arria Formula meeting, the governments of Spain and Malaysia outlined the need to focus once more on climate change and security, especially in the light of the most recent IPCC report and the urgent situation for Small Island States: “It is a matter of survival for many Small Island States as well as the low-lying coastal territories of numerous states, which are currently facing serious threats of permanent inundation from sea-level rise.”

Second, 2015 is a year with a number of high level conferences that are crucial to renew the governance structure of global environmental and development governance. The hope for a new and ambitious global agreement as a result of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris is enormous, as a key step to limit climate change and, hence, also its security implications. With the Security Council dealing again with some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, there is hope for further momentum for the final rounds of negotiations.

Third, initiatives like the one of the G7 Foreign Ministers to ask for concrete actions on climate change and fragile states can contribute to a shift in the debate to move from warning to real action. Part of the a final communiqué of the foreign ministers in Lübeck, Germany, back in April is to consider how the international community can strengthen resilience to climate change and to avoid increased incidents of violent conflicts. Though the G7 have a major impact when it comes to greenhouse gas emission reductions and development finance, a broader platform of states is needed to address key aspects of resilience building, especially in fragile contexts. Accordingly, outreach to the G20, Small Island States or the g7+ governments is important and can be introduced by flagging the issue in the Security Council again.

So what’s next? One of the statements well received during the Arria formula meeting was the statement by Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands. He appreciated the attention for the topic but also asked what the a Presidential Statement adopted during the 2011 Security Council debate led to. More concretely, he argued, if the Security Council is one of the primary multilateral forums, what has been the progress on this issue since 2011? After the two sessions in 2015, there may be room for some progress in this regard. The EU and others referred to the need for regular reporting on climate change and security and are in favour of an updated report by the Secretary General who already published areport back in 2009. The SIDS open debate organized by New Zealand in July aimed at framing discussions both with view to immediate proposals in the run up to Paris and as part of a more comprehensive long-term process. So there are a few entry points for a follow up – but enduring leadership is needed to move the debate beyond warnings concerning security implications of climate change.