the rejection The very first draft resolution on climate security put to a vote at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in December exposed the deep division on the subject within the international community. The objections of a range of major and middle powers are valid, although climate change is likely to become a major security problem in the near future. The only way forward is for the United States and its European partners to work to bridge this gap with those states, including Russia.
It was Russia’s veto that killed the Security Council resolution, which had the support of twelve of the fifteen Council member states and was sponsored by Ireland and Council President Niger. Russia was supported by India, which also voted “No”, and China, which criticized the project but chose to abstain.
Russia justified his veto pointing to the lack of consensus among UN member states on the issue. He said the conflict was a complex and poorly understood issue, that there was no “automatic link” between climate and security, and that the United Nations Security Council was not the right forum. to discuss climate related issues.
Many of India’s arguments aligned with those of Russia. New Delhi reiterated its long-held position that climate change is a development issue rather than a security issue. He said the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under the auspices of which the annual negotiations of the Conference of the Parties on the Climate (COP) are held, was the appropriate body to address the issue. . China recognized the “potential for impact on peace and security”, but noted that climate change must not be securitized; and that developed countries must assume their historic responsibility for emissions.
It would be tempting to dismiss these countries’ arguments as sabotaging an emerging consensus on climate security. But that would be a mistake. No less than eighty UN member states are opposed or skeptical about the role of the UNSC in this affair. It is also true that academic research on the causal link between climate and interstate or intrastate violence has gave mixed results. However, causality is much clearer when it comes to the adverse effects of climate change on human security, i.e. economic marginalization, health and displacement. Intuitively, these can be seen as ultimately leading to violence, or at a minimum, aggravating the fault lines within and between states.
Academic research has looked at cases in what is currently a relatively modest 1.1 ℃ warming world. As we head towards a likely 2 ℃ increase over the next two decades, climate change will become a major phenomenon in the international system, with natural disasters and extreme heat making some of the most densely populated regions of the world. world. practically uninhabitable. In such a world, it is likely that the links between climate change and instability and conflict will be much stronger.
The topic of climate security as a matter of international concern cannot be avoided for long. But securing climate change, as with any other problem, is a double-edged sword. It raises the level of urgency, focuses minds and potentially makes more resources available. On the other hand, it can create “states of emergency” in which the processes of securing buy-in and forming a favorable opinion are bypassed in favor of opaque decision-making by an official. selected set of powerful states. The fact that the five permanent members of the UNSC are currently divided does not prevent them from coming together in the future in a way that hurts the rest of the world.
The main challenge is therefore to prepare the international community for actions that do not open the door to hegemonic precepts or create new divisions, while safeguarding the vital interests of all States.
The most doubtful of these precepts is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a concept that appeared in the 1990s in North America and Europe, legitimation of coercive intervention in states to protect civilians from massive persecution or state repression. The development of an R2P-type doctrine on climate change is not a far-fetched possibility. France, supported by the United States, proposed coercive intervention when Cyclone Narvis hit Myanmar in 2008 to help victims who have reportedly been underserved by national relief missions.
R2P or related humanitarian arguments were also made during US-led interventions in Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2003. Both wars cost dearly and left more instability and destruction in their midst. wake than the initial crises that triggered them. Any discussion of climate security within the United Nations should move away from the temptations of a new R2P-like doctrine or other coercive concepts.
Security must also be defined narrowly. If everything is considered security, then nothing is. Critics rightly fear that “climate security” could be used as a means to dictate development choices and priorities. Mitigation actions should therefore be explicitly excluded from discussions on climate security.
Although the UNSC is tasked by the United Nations system with maintenance of international peace and security, this may not be the right forum to discuss climate security at the moment. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) does not have the coercive powers of the United Nations Security Council, but is fully representative of all member states and has its own the story to take charge of climate security. A role of UNGA in actions that directly prevent major human loss, such as encouraging transnational early warning systems for natural disasters, supporting better adaptation in conflict zones, and even facilitating proactive diplomacy in future situations tensions amplified by the climate, would be more legitimate and would benefit from a wider participation.
Adopting a case-based approach could also be beneficial. For example, Russia, China and India have introduced a alternative project specifically focused on the Sahel, but the United States and its partners were not interested. Such an approach can serve as a learning tool, although further research clarifies the relationship between climate and security. Ultimately, an accumulation of such cases may or may not forge a closer consensus that is more generic in scope. Care should be taken in the selection of cases. Africa has been the subject of disproportionate attention to climate security, as have the activities of the International Criminal Court, which opens such racism accusations.
For their part, Russia, India and other opposing states will need to be more open to accepting the links between climate change and conflict. They must also recognize that the current divisions are not so much of a North-South nature as between a set of major and middle powers concerned with their sovereignty and the others.
Although Russia and others were consulted on the UNSC project, the consultation was ultimately unsuccessful. In the future, the goal should be to develop a common understanding through compromise. It will inevitably take time. Dividing blocks like the ones we have seen at the UNSC will escalate instead of helping solve the challenges of a world ravaged by natural disasters that is our likely future.
Sarang Shidore is Director of Studies at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Senior Research Analyst at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. His areas of research and analysis are geopolitical risks, grand strategy and energy / climate security, with a particular focus on Asia.