Russia on Monday vetoed a first-of-its-kind U.N. Security Council resolution casting climate change as a threat to international peace and security, a vote that sank a years-long effort to make global warming a more central consideration for the U.N.’s most powerful body.
Spearheaded by Ireland and Niger, the proposal called for “incorporating information on the security implications of climate change” into the council’s strategies for managing conflicts and into peacekeeping operations and political missions, at least sometimes. The measure also asked the U.N. secretary-general to make climate-related security risks “a central component” of conflict prevention efforts and to report on how to address those risks in specific hotspots.
“It’s long overdue” that the U.N.’s foremost security-related body take up the issue, Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said.
The council has occasionally discussed the security implications of climate change since 2007, and the wider General Assembly pronounced itself “deeply concerned” about the issue in 2009. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also sounded alarms, telling the Security Council last week that the effects of climate change “compound conflicts and exacerbate fragility.”
The council has passed resolutions that mention destabilizing effects of warming in specific places, such as various African countries and Iraq. But Monday’s resolution would have been the first devoted to climate-related security danger as an issue of its own.
Stronger storms, rising seas, more frequent floods and droughts and other effects of warming could inflame social tensions and conflict, potentially “posing a key risk to global peace, security and stability,” the proposed resolution said. Some 113 of the U.N.’s 193 member countries supported it, including 12 of the council’s 15 members.
But India and veto-wielding Russia voted no, while China abstained.
Their envoys said the issue should remain with broader U.N. groups, such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Adding climate change to the Security Council’s purview would only deepen global divisions that were pointed up by last month’s climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, the opponents said. The talks ended in a deal that recommitted to a key target for limiting warming and broke some new ground but fell short of the U.N.’s three big goals for the conference.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia complained that Monday’s proposed resolution would turn “a scientific and economic issue into a politicised question,” divert the council’s attention from what he called “genuine” sources of conflict in various places and give the council a pretext to intervene in virtually any country on the planet.
“This approach would be a ticking time bomb,” he said.
India and China questioned the idea of tying conflict to climate, and they predicted trouble for the Glasgow commitments if the Security Council — a body that can impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeeping troops — started weighing in more.
“What the Security Council needs to do is not a political show,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said.
The measure’s supporters said it represented a modest and reasonable step to take on an issue of existential importance.
“Today was an opportunity for the council to recognise, for the first time, the reality of the world that we are living in and that climate change is increasing insecurity and instability,” Byrne Nason said. “Instead, we have missed the opportunity for action, and we look away from the realities of the world we are living in.”
Proponents vowed to keep the council’s eye on climate risks.
“The force of the veto can block the approval of a text,” said Niger’s ambassador, Abdou Abarry, “but it cannot hide our reality.”