Climate and Security

Human security is “a condition that exists when the vital core of human lives is protected” (IPCC, AR5 (2014)) and arises from the complex interaction of multiple cross-cutting factors. Within this complexity, there are critical interlinkages between the consequences of climate change and fundamental elements of human security.

On January 25, 2019, the UN Security Council held an open debate on the theme “Addressing the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security.” This debate reflects a historical trend dating back to 2007 when the UN Security Council held its first debate on the impacts of climate change on peace and security, followed by debates in 2011 and July 2018, and recent Council resolutions and statements acknowledging the adverse impacts of climate change on the stability of certain regions and countries, such as the Lake Chad Basin region, Somalia, West Africa and the Sahel, Mali, and Darfur. Yet, insufficient progress has been made with respect to the climate-security nexus since 2007, and the moment is ripe during this 2019-2020 timeframe to make a concerted push to put the human security implications of climate change squarely on the UN Security Council agenda, as complementary to the UNFCCC which remains the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

Climate change impacts ecological and human systems and progressively affects human security in multiple forms and dimensions, particularly relating to, inter alia:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Health
  • Livelihoods
  • Climate-related disasters
  • Infrastructure (especially transport and energy infrastructure)
  • Mobility (evacuation, relocation, displacement and/or migration)
  • Territorial integrity (for e.g., impacts of sea level rise)
  • Transboundary impacts (for e.g., on transboundary water basins), and
  • Conflict and geopolitical risks.

Climate change is a multiplier of threats to human systems and human security, particularly in situations of existing vulnerability, fragility, and conflict (and post-conflict), and these facets require much greater attention, research, monitoring, and analysis in order to develop appropriate preventive strategies and responsive policies. As such, UNDP’s new initiative to collaborate with other UN entities to develop a “climate security mechanism” should be strongly supported. This new climate security mechanism should, inter alia, build analytic capacity within the UN system and coordinate regionally (as climate change will affect different regions differently) as well as support integrated climate risk assessments, early warning systems, and resilience-building, particularly for developing countries and countries in special situations. In this respect, we call for the appointment of a Special Representative on Climate and Security, which can establish a focal point for the climate security mechanism and other initiatives in order to ensure system-wide coordination and coherence.

The call for a Special Representative on Climate and Security is not new, as it was first raised by the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) in 2011. Since then, much more knowledge about the impacts of climate change on human security have come to light. In September 2018, the leaders in the Pacific Islands Forum issued the Boe Declaration on Regional Security which affirms that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific,” and in the recent UN Security Council open debate the representative of the Pacific Islands Forum renewed the call for a Special Representative. In addition to serving as a focal point for the climate-security nexus in the UN system, the Special Representative can, inter alia, provide periodic reports and analytic information to the UN Secretary-General and the UN Security Council, monitor emerging climate-security risks and threats, and facilitate greater regional and cross-border cooperation in climate-security matters, particularly in situations of existing vulnerability, fragility, and conflict (and post-conflict).

These action steps should not distract from the need for greater global ambition to implement what was agreed in Paris in 2015: holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Yet, these and other action steps with respect to the climate-security nexus are necessary complements in navigating this new epoch of the Anthropocene marked by uncertainty, instability and insecurity. Indeed, climate change will affect the fundamental conditions of human security and sustainable peace and development for vast numbers of people during this century, and our human systems must begin to pursue integrated action on climate, peace and security, and development.

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