Home > Climate Change > UN Security Council Misses Critical Opportunity to Take Action on Climate Change

UN Security Council Misses Critical Opportunity to Take Action on Climate Change

Alyssa Johl, Project Attorney

Hana Heineken, Law Fellow

By Alyssa Johl and Hana Heineken

At the end of Wednesday’s Security Council open debate on the security implications of climate change, Council members reached consensus on a Presidential Statement recognizing the link between security and climate change  (see our July 19 blog for background on this issue).  While this statement fails to call for any specific actions to be taken by the Council, it is notable for several reasons.  It recognizes the relationship between climate and security, particularly with respect to sea level rise, identifies that climate change may be a “threat multiplier”, and stresses the need for international cooperation to address climate change, including its security impacts.

The Security Council debate also provided a high-profile forum for UN representatives to highlight their concerns related to climate and security.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner made strong appeals to Council members, stating the Council has an important role to play in linking climate change, peace and security.  U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice criticized the Council’s silence on climate change as a dereliction of its duties and called on the Council to step up its efforts.

President Marcus Stephen of Nauru emphasized the devastating effects that climate change will have on Pacific Small Island States. Stephen stated that climate change is a “threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, and carries the potential to destabilize governments and ignite conflict. Neither has ever led to the disappearance of an entire nation, though that is what we are confronted with today.” Stephen concluded his remarks with a stern warning, “Let history record that, once again, we have sounded the alarm and the world chose not to act.”

Despite the evidence presented by UNEP’s Steiner and strong interventions by the U.S., Nauru and others, a group of countries, particularly Russia and China, firmly opposed efforts to put climate change on the Council’s agenda and, as a result, prevented the Council from taking any meaningful action.  While no one expected the Council to solve the climate crisis, this was certainly a missed opportunity to address climate change’s real and present threat to peace and security around the world.

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