Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security - Security Council Open VTC

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24-Jul-2020 03:00:28
Climate change exacerbates existing conflict risks, likely to create new ones, Assistant Secretary-General warns Security Council.

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With climate change poised to further intensify resource competition, exacerbate conflicts and drive hundreds of millions of people from their homes, the phenomenon — once considered separately from matters of peace and security — must now take centre stage in the Security Council’s work, experts stressed during the 15-member organ’s 24 July video conference meeting.

“The climate emergency is a danger to peace,” said Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, who briefed the Council on behalf of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. Record temperatures, unprecedented sea levels and frequent extreme weather events paint a dangerous future for the planet and for humanity, as lives and livelihoods are threatened, competition increases, and communities are displaced. While noting that no automatic link exists, he said climate change exacerbates existing conflict risks and is likely to create new ones.

Citing examples ranging from the Pacific to Central and Southern Asia, he said that in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, the changing climate is expected to displace more than 140 million people within their national borders by 2050. In the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, the impacts of climate change have already deepened conflict and provided fodder for extremist organizations. Indeed, it is no coincidence that seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change already host United Nations peacekeeping or special political missions.

Against that backdrop, he called for action on multiple fronts — including accelerating the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change — while adding that peace and security actors also have an important role to play. “The failure to consider the growing impacts of climate change will undermine our efforts at conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace, and risk, trapping vulnerable countries in a vicious cycle of climate disaster and conflict,” he stressed.

Outlining several opportunities for action, he said new technologies must be leveraged to translate long-term climate foresight into near-term action. The Climate Security Mechanism — run jointly by his department, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — provides guidance in that regard. Meanwhile, efforts to deliver peace and security must place people at their centre and build on the power of women and youth as agents of change. He pointed to one such project, in which women environmental leaders are helping to implement Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement.

Among other recommendations, he called for more multidimensional partnerships that connect the work of United Nations entities, Member States, regional organizations and others. Examples include regional efforts to support people in the Boko Haram-affected Lake Chad Basin; the Green Central Asia Initiative on transboundary water issues, led by Germany; and a mechanism on climate-related security risks run jointly by the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “These tailored, region-specific examples can provide valuable insights and lessons for other partnerships to follow,” he said.

Mahamadou Seidou Magagi, Director of the Centre National d’Études Stratégiques et de Sécurité in Niger, declared: “There are few places in the world where climate change is as real as in the Sahel.” Already, high temperatures are on the rise, and heavy rains, flooding, sandstorms and droughts are common. Noting that 85 per cent of the region’s natural hazards in the last four decades have taken place after 2001, he said surface water is scarce across the region and competition for resources are exacerbating hardships.

“Livelihoods handed down through generations are at risk as water tables dry up, crop yields diminish and the desert slowly overtakes once fertile lands,” he continued. Those challenging conditions are also exacerbating already tense relationships between various rural groups, especially between farmers and herders. Meanwhile, others have been forced to flee their homes or turn to illegal activities — including joining extremist groups — to survive.

Describing climate change as but one of the many drivers of conflict, he urged the Council to view it as a “threat multiplier”. Such a situation requires the international community to act. Outlining Niger’s innovative national initiatives and regional leadership efforts, he said the country has reduced by half the percentage of its population vulnerable to food insecurity. It also hosts a regional centre tasked with studying weather forecasts and food security issues.

He made several recommendations, asking the United Nations to conduct an integrated climate security assessment before engaging in country assistance. The Organization should also help build national and local capacity to monitor climate change; collect authoritative data on the topic and make it available to Member States; ensure that the United Nations Development Assistance Framework fully incorporates climate security risks; and establish a new climate security risk coordination mechanism.

Coral Pasisi, Director of the Sustainable Pacific Consultancy in Niue, also briefed the Council. Stressing that climate change presents the single greatest threat to her region’s security, she focused on its serious repercussions for Pacific maritime boundaries and the settled legal order they represent. “The [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] established a comprehensive legal order for the ocean, providing […] rights, duties and economic returns,” she said. However, that Convention did not foresee climate change, sea level rise and their potential impacts.

She said the basepoints that serve to demarcate the maritime boundaries of many Pacific small island States — including low-lying atolls — often consist of coral islands and sandy cays and are now under threat from sea level rise and degradation. “This could have significant consequences for statehood, national identify, sustainable development, livelihoods and law and order in the Pacific,” she warned. In response, Pacific leaders are working to urgently register maritime boundaries and legally ensure that, once fixed, they cannot be challenged as a result of sea level rise.

Turning to a second major threat — that posed to the Pacific’s blue economy — she said climate change threatens to permanently degrade and destabilize coral reefs, ocean ecosystems and the many species on which Pacific States are highly dependent. For example, climate change is projected to significantly alter the migration patterns of tuna — from which nine Pacific island nations derive up to 84 per cent of their Government licensing revenue — pushing them out of Pacific exclusive economic zones. Such changes would also lead to an increase in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, likely exacerbating conflict in the region.

Finally, she spotlighted the serious threat of displacement, noting that before islands disappear into the ocean they will become so degraded as to force mass population movements. Displacement is already occurring both within and among island nations, increasing the chances of conflict and instability, and young people stand to lose their cultural birth rights all together. Calling on the international community to halt and reverse climate change, she added that the Council — as the premier organ responsible for peace and security — should take the time to understand the threat and do everything possible to address it.

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