What’s UNEP’s role for international peace & security?

International institutions have begun to integrate climate-security risks into their work.

This interview was conducted at the Planetary Security Conference in The Hague, 5-6 December 2016. It is produced by Paul Müller-Hahl (Lichtbilder Filmproduktion) and directed by Stella Schaller (adelphi).

"UN Environment tries to be the voice of the environment in the United Nations system and the core role of the UN system is the preservation of international peace and security. We see our role as identifying core environmental risks as they relate to peace and security. We don’t get involved in conflict prevention, conflict mediation ourselves but we try and work with the bits of the UN that are responsible for identifying, preventing and resolving conflict. We try to encourage organs like the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and other parts of the UN to really think about how climate change can play a role in international peace and security and what we can do to resolve some of the core issues that climate change is creating in terms of peace and security. So that involves working with entities as the peace building support office, the department for peace keeping operations, to think about how they can integrate climate approaches more effectively into their work.


There is a few different dimensions of how we are doing this: we are working with the department of peacekeeping operations to think about and to help them reduce their own environmental footprint – peacekeeping operations in the UN: we have 120,000 troops in 20 different missions, 2,000 different locations around the world and so the UN is actually a major deployer of troops, interceding in conflict in fragile states, keeping kind of battling groups apart, keeping combatants apart, kind of monitoring peace agreements. So one of the things we are trying to do is to help minimize their own environmental footprint so they are not actually making the situation worse.

Another area we’re working is in fragile states such as Sudan, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Haiti, to support general environmental management in the countries to help build back processes of institutions and laws, capacity for environmental management in those post-conflict countries so they can manage their own resources better which is part of the story, part of the solution the conflict-impacts of climate change.

Climate change plays out in many different ways around food security and water and land and so on. Fundamentally, it’s redrawing the maps of our world and that is very destabilizing, it potentially makes life a lot more difficult in different parts of the world through food security problems, through internal displacement, through problems of water and so on. The response has to be very holistic, has to be very broad, it involves dealing with these core root causes of the conflicts which is at the whole sweep of environmental management and natural resource managements in those countries.

We are working with the European Commission to look at: how do we take the policy, the idea of climate insecurity and actually make a difference on the ground and take some of the risks that we have identified over the last 10, 15 years of research and advocacy and campaigning around the potential impact of climate change and actually do something about them on the ground."