Russia this month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on climate security, despite overwhelming support for the proposal among member states. This represents a significant setback, but states should continue to push the Security Council to address the destabilizing effect of climate change on international peace.
On December 13, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on climate security presented by Ireland and Niger. This draft resolution was a relatively modest text, focused on improving the UN’s analysis of the links between climate change and instability in countries and regions on the Council’s agenda, and calling for the Secretary-General to produce a report on these issues by December 2023. Russia argued that there was not enough evidence to justify these links and complained that the Irish and Nigerians had made efforts insufficient to achieve consensus for their initiative. While twelve Council members voted for the resolution, India opposed it on similar grounds to Russia and China abstained.
Although the resolution failed, it was popular among the UN membership as a whole. Ireland and Niger invited member and non-Council member states to co-sponsor the text (as recommended by Crisis Group) and 113 have done so. This was the second most co-sponsors of a draft resolution in Council history – 134 states supported a successful Ebola resolution in 2014 – and yet this underestimates the level support for the project, as some countries tried to add their names to the list after the deadline to do so.
The level of support for the resolution was the highest among European states (see map in PDF). Almost two-thirds of Latin American and Caribbean states co-sponsored the text, as did 26 of the 54 African members. The three African members of the Council – including Kenya and Tunisia in addition to Niger – had been strong supporters of the initiative. Among the UN membership as a whole, support was particularly high among states in the Sahel region, where the Council has already recognized climate change as a security threat. Just before the vote on the Irish-Nigerian text on December 13, Russia tabled its own resolution on the sources of instability in the Sahel, including references to environmental issues in addition to threats such as terrorism. This may have been intended as a coup in Niger or simply as a distraction from the main resolution. Neither Ireland nor Niger saw this narrow, regionally-focused text as a real alternative to theirs, and discussions over the Russian project last week were disjointed.
Three Security Council members – France, Kenya and Vietnam – who backed the Irish-Niger project in talks this summer and fall have not co-sponsored the project. France feared that a Russian veto could delay climate security talks in the Council and urged Ireland to avoid a confrontation (the United States, by contrast, appears to have supported a harder line on Russia). Kenya’s refusal to co-sponsor the text appears to have been linked to discontent over the outcome of the November UN climate summit in Glasgow, where developing countries were disappointed by limited offers of financial support from rich countries to climate adaptation. Despite their qualms, the three countries ultimately voted in favor of the resolution.
China’s abstention was striking, as the Chinese in coordination with India and Russia had formally opposed Ireland and Niger to putting the issue to a vote. Council members, apparently including the United States, had warned China – which has historically been quite reluctant to use its veto – that a negative vote could damage their image as leaders on climate change diplomacy by general. In explaining his vote, the Chinese ambassador took the opportunity to highlight the responsibilities of developed countries to help the poorest countries respond to climate change. He even suggested that the Security Council put in place a mechanism to monitor this, although it is most likely an attack on Western supporters of the resolution, rather than a serious political proposal.
The resolution’s high level of co-sponsorship has led some diplomats to suggest that countries concerned with climate security should table a similar text at the United Nations General Assembly, where members do not have a veto. France has suggested in the past an initiative of the General Assembly in this direction. Taking this route could have advantages, as the Assembly could call for an even broader study of climate and security challenges, going beyond the countries and regions on the Security Council’s agenda. But tabling such a resolution would mean entering a new round of negotiations and in the absence of a big effort on the part of the sponsors, it could have less impact than a product of the Council: the resolutions of the General Assembly. do not generally match those of the Security Council and may be trivial.
Whatever happens in the General Assembly, Security Council members who supported the Irish-Nigerian resolution will continue to push for references to the effects of climate change in the mandates of peace operations and political missions in the United States. ‘UN, although some fear that India, Russia and – despite their recent abstention, China will now more firmly push back such references on a case-by-case basis (in part to avoid setting precedents for future thematic resolutions on the subject ). Anyone tabling an updated version of the Irish-Nigerian resolution in 2022 is unlikely. Brazil will join the body in January and align itself with climate security skeptics, which will turn talks on a new one. more difficult text.
The Security Council’s stumble on climate security follows its dismal performance on COVID-19 last year when the United States and China suspended an agreement on a resolution on the security implications of the pandemic for months. This latest setback provides ammunition for those who argue that the Council is incapable of dealing with new and evolving security threats. Nonetheless, the high level of support for this resolution suggests that many states would still like the Council to play a greater role in tackling these non-traditional threats. Unfortunately, the destabilizing effects of climate change on international peace and security may need to become more glaring before all Council members come to an agreement.