There is no question that climate change is a threat multiplier that plays a role in the instigation and continuation of conflict. And yet, it has been 12 year since the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held its first debate on the security implications of climate change without any concrete steps to address this issue.
In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, displaced more than 3 million people in just one month, only one year after the region was struck by Hurricane Matthew, which on its own displaced 2.2 million people in 2016. As these extreme storms become more common, people will lose their livelihoods, their sources of food, basic services, and sometimes, their lives, creating a situation ripe for public discontent and unrest. In the Middle East and North Africa, there is a growing consensus from academics, government agencies, and international organizations, that more extreme and longer droughts played a role in conflict there, particularly through drought’s impact on displacement and resource scarcity.
The UNSC is the world’s central body dedicated to the maintenance of international peace, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. It operates over 35 peacekeeping and special political missions, covering all regions of the world from the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. With its mandate to maintain global peace and its involvement in almost every security situation around the world, the UNSC is perfectly positioned to make a significant impact on how climate change is incorporated into how we respond to and address conflict. And yet, the UNSC has not committed to addressing climate change or its security impacts.
In UNSC deployed missions, renewable energy accounted for less than 1% of electricity, meaning that missions rely almost entirely on fossil fuels, particularly diesel. If the UN claims to be a leader on driving climate action, then it must live up to its word and take concrete steps to move towards clean energy in its deployed missions. By transitioning to clean energy, the UNSC can reduce its own emissions as well as build sustainable infrastructure in the dozens of communities they serve, fostering sustainable development and self-sufficient communities.
As I have found in my research at the Stimson Center on identifying where climate change will exacerbate underlying vulnerabilities and increase the risk of instability and insecurity, there is a lack of global assessments on where climate change will lead to conflict or the continuation of conflict. Too often we only recognize climate change’s impact on conflict after unrest and violence has started, such as in Syria and Darfur. The UN needs to undertake a concerted effort to identify where climate change will drive insecurity. Without assessments to identify the areas most vulnerable to climate change, it will be impossible to build resilience where it is most needed and prevent climate change from exacerbating insecurities.
As a young briefer, invited to speak at the most recent open debate in the UNSC on the impact of climate change on global security, I urged the Security Council to take the following three actions:
- The Security Council should adopt a resolution that formally recognizes climate change as a threat to international peace and security and incorporate climate change assessments into the mandates of all deployed missions.
- Deployed missions should assess how climate change will impact local youth and how youth can be involved in building resilience and sustainability.
- The UNSC should commit to transition to 50% of its energy in deployed missions to come from renewable source by 2025.
Taking these steps will improve the ability of deployed missions to holistically address the drivers of conflict in their peacebuilding activities and prepare vulnerable communities to the impacts of climate change. It will help us better understand how climate change will affect security situations and vulnerable populations, such as youth, in almost 40 conflict-vulnerable communities around the world. It will also contribute to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change’s threat multiplying effects in the first place.
The UNSC can be a global leader on addressing the security implications of climate change and set an example for the rest of the world on the importance of confronting this issue. By acting now, the UNSC can reduce the threat climate change poses to international peace and security thereby fulfilling its mandate and fostering a safer and more secure world for my generation and generations to come.