Over 600,000 people have been displaced in recent floods in Sri Lanka. Drought is bringing starvation and famine to 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. These are just a few pieces of the mounting evidence that climate change causes insecurity and exacerbates the suffering primarily in already conflict-affected and fragile states. That implies it is part of the story of recruitment of young people by insurgent groups and part of the background to migration. ‘Today, in short, the world faces increasingly complex security challenges, but lacks the institutions needed to deal with them,’ says Dan Smith, Director of SIPRI in a newly released film on the issue.
The Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030, as well as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States provide substantial policy options to address climate-related security risks. However, at this critical juncture, it is time for the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) role as a high-profile global actor on peace and security to show clear leadership and to give climate security an institutional home in the UNSC.
The world has been hesitant to recognize the security risks posed by climate change because they are so complex, explains Dr Malin Mobjörk, Senior Researcher at SIPRI. Building on extensive research, Mobjörk outlines three forms of security risks related to climate change in the film: negative effects on livelihood conditions; damage to critical infrastructure; and an increase in migration flows. Understanding these security risks requires inter-disciplinary knowledge.
Putting climate change on the UNSC agenda
Climate change is fundamentally changing the way people live. It is therewith changing the way communities relate to each other. It changes the terms of the security assessment in many countries. And the implications of these changes have in part already been reaching the UNSC.
Firstly, at the end of March 2017, the UNSC issued a unanimous resolution (2349) against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognised the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity – particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities – which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts. It was clear during the discussions with key stakeholders at the 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, that increasing threats to livelihoods through weak governance, marginalization and increasingly volatile weather patterns and water resources, provide both an increased suffering for the Lake Chad basin’s population, and a fertile ground for terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, to recruit people for their cause.
Secondly, the examples of Lake Chad, an unprecedented famine in the Horn of Africa and the complexity of the Syrian conflict, illustrate the scale of the security challenges related to climate change. These consequences are first and foremost noticeable in fragile contexts. However, the security risks posed by climate change are unique in that there are also clear preventative pathways for adaptation through development. With that said, the Mandate of the UNSC goes beyond resolving conflict, it also involves ‘maintaining peace and security’ with a broader notion of security. There are several examples of human security-focussed UNSC resolutions, including: 1325 which focuses on women’s vulnerabilities and needs in conflict and post-conflict spaces; 2331 on human trafficking; and, 1308 /1983 on the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Thirdly, given the serious interactions of climate change with underdevelopment, fragility and security, it is no surprise that increasingly the voices calling for climate change to be placed on the UNSC’s agenda are those countries most affected by climate change impacts. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have long advocated a stronger role of the UNSC in highlighting climate concerns. Today, especially with UNSC Resolution 2349, more recognition of climate security concerns are heard. For instance, the Ethiopian Representative Tekeda Elemu, emphasised the insufficient international recognition of the intersecting roles of ‘climate change-induced challenges, as well as falling commodity prices’ in conflict.
As argued above, the security implications of climate change demand clear global leadership and explicit institutional change. In a recent speech at New York University, the UN Secretary General (UNSG), António Guterres, emphasised, ‘there is a compelling security case for climate action’ and that he would rally the United Nations system behind it.
An opportunity for Sweden
Sweden has a golden opportunity to support this effort of the UNSG as a member of the UNSC during 2017 and 2018. In fact, Sweden has shown real leadership around reducing the security risks posed by climate change through its efforts around the Lake Chad resolution. Even though this is questioned by some, there are nonetheless very good reasons why Sweden should engage.
Opportunities for Sweden to engage:
- Mainstreaming climate change response at the UN. Part of this is improving the risk assessment and risk management of climate-related security risks. Without better risk assessment, adequate responses cannot be achieved. Collectively, the world has much knowledge on these risks, but they are currently not informing the UNSC.
- Promoting continued capacity development in dealing with uncertainty and risk across the United Nations and other lateral institutions, national governments, civil society and the private sector.
- Showcasing Sweden’s leadership as a state that is forward thinking in conflict prevention.
Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, has made clear that Sweden will focus on conflict prevention at the UNSC. This is consistent with Articles 24 and 39 of the aforementioned UNSC Mandate which clearly states the UNSC should ‘maintain peace and security’ and ‘determine the existence of a threat to the peace.’ One of the conflict prevention efforts Sweden should lead is in promoting an institutional home for climate security in the UNSG’s office, to collect state-of-the-art knowledge on climate-related security risks and inform the UNSC.
Sweden’s role in the UN has always been different, because it has focused on development rather than military security. Sweden has stood with smaller nations that see the UN and its organization as their best protection in the present world. The impacts of climate change threaten especially those smaller and fragile nations – Sweden should again stand firmly at their side.