UN Security Council – Open Debate on the Impact of Climate Change

July 20, 2011

United Nations Security Council, Open Debate on the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: the Impact of Climate Change”

Roma and her Interns attending the Security Council debate on July 20, 2011

The objective for the United Nations Security Council’s open debate on the subject of “Maintenance and international peace and security: the impact of climate change” on July 20, 2011 was addressed in a letter written by the current President of the Security Council and Permanent Representative of Germany, Peter Wittig. In his communication to the Secretary-General, Mr. Wittig said the debate would include the issues of rising sea levels and the reduction of food production as they are linked to climate change and the resulting effects on peace and security. Also included in this regard would be how the United Nations and other agencies can work to prevent conflict and build peace. Although the representatives discussed some of these topics, there was no consensus as to whether or not climate change is an appropriate subject for the Security Council.

Rather, many representatives felt that this issue should be confined to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD.)

The meeting began with an address by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon saying that, “Sustainable development is the defining issue of our time.” He was then followed by the Executive Director of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Achim Steiner, who gave an in-depth analysis on climate change. Mr. Steiner explained that the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) remains, for the international community, the first point of reference in terms of determining what science can tell us today and what science can not yet tell us.” As of now, the IPCC tells us that on average, the planet’s warming is increasing by .3 degrees per decade, nearly twice the temperature increase seen over the last 100 years. As a result of this warming, sea levels are bound to rise 1 meter by the end of the century, which will undoubtedly cause conflict and displacement, especially for the Small Island States.

Although many representatives, such as the United States, expressed their concern with climate change, countries such as China and Russia believed that this topic should only be dealt with in terms of sustainable development and not security. Climate change, however; is and has been threatening every aspect of our lives from food security to resource management and as the United Kingdom stated, a threat multiplier.

As many countries during the debate continued to agree that climate change is an important issue, the President of Nauru, Marcus Stephen, representing fourteen Small Island Developing States (SIDS), made a dramatic call for action, imploring that these states are at risk of disappearing or losing significant territory to rising sea levels. Carbon dioxide has caused unavoidable impacts affecting food security, water security and public safety.  In order to begin protection of the small island states, President Stephen suggested that the Security Council and other organizations, such as the UNFCCC, must analyze the projected security impacts and learn how to respond to them. In addition, he reiterated the suggestion that “the Council should start by requesting the immediate appointment of a special representative on climate and security. This individual’s primary responsibility should be to analyze projected security impacts of climate change so that the Council and all Member States can understand what lies ahead.”

In addition, President Marcus insisted that “the Council should also request an assessment of the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to these impacts, so that vulnerable countries can be assured that it is up to the task.”

Even though this debate concluded with no consensus, the Security Council understands the importance of following climate change as the possible adverse effects may in the long run aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.