Thursday, May 17, 2018

The UN Security Council Is Starting to Take Climate Change Seriously

The most powerful UN body is tentatively addressing the links between global warming and instability.  It can and should do more, writes Ashley Murphy.

Climate change is one of the great security challenges of the 21st century.  As the world warms, conflicts over water, food or energy will become more common and many people will be forced from their homes.

Scientists, think-tanks, NGOs, militaries, and even the White House (albeit under President Obama) all agree that climate change threatens human safety and well-being.  Yet the organisation charged with global security has remained relatively silent.

The UN Security Council, responsible for maintaining international peace and security, is comprised of 15 countries.  Five seats are reserved for permanent members with veto powers (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US) while the other ten members are elected to represent their region (“Africa”, “Asia-Pacific”, etc) for two-year terms.

The ten current elected members (Italy and the Netherlands split one two-year term between them). 

Together, this semi-rotating group of 15 takes binding decisions for all 193 UN members.  This alone makes the Security Council a very powerful institution, but combined with its capacity to sanction, and intervene in the affairs of states it has an influence far exceeding that of any other international body.  It is, in many respects, the executive of the international system.

For this reason the council has considered contemporary security challenges such as international terrorism, nuclear weapon proliferation, and transnational crime.  Positive results include an international crackdown on the financing of terrorism, the sharing of information to tackle various criminal problems, stronger border controls for nuclear materials, and the global mobilization of experts to address a health epidemic.

The fact the Security Council has helped combat these varied and largely unrelated challenges shows its potential to do good.  Yet these interventions also pose the critical question of why it has yet to engage climate change in any meaningful way.  Article 41 sanctions would be available to the council in the event of states not meeting their Paris Agreement obligations.  Economic sanctions could also be placed upon corporations, that currently operate with relatively little international scrutiny.  What the council brings is an ability to coerce – something that is currently lacking throughout international climate law.

The council hasn’t entirely ignored climate change, of course.  In 2007 the first open debate on the matter took place, though this was based on the unofficial proviso that no binding output would follow.  Similar discussions were held in 2011 and 2013 but again stark divides among the members prevented any meaningful outputs.

Read more at The UN Security Council Is Starting to Take Climate Change Seriously

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