Russia vetoed UN Security Council resolution linking climate crisis to international peace

    15 Dec 2021

    Russia has vetoed a first-of-its-kind UN security council resolution casting the climate crisis as a threat to international peace and security. Associated Press in New York reports that this vote sank a years-long effort to make global heating more central to decision-making in the UN’s most powerful body.

    The resolution proposed that the climate crisis could potentially threaten ‘global peace, security and stability’.

    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 UN 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.

    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. 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.

    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.”

    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. Of the UN’s 193 member countries, 113 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 UN 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 UN’s three big goals for the conference.

    Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya complained that December 13’s proposed resolution would turn “a scientific and economic issue into a politicized 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.



    “The international community is deeply divided over climate issues,” said Nebenzya, commenting on Russia’s decision. He called the text an attempt to impose on the world community “the position of climate activists.” “This would actually lead to a deep split, a rollback in the fight against climate change,” he stressed.

    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 recognize, for the first time, the reality of the world that we are living in and that climate change is increasing insecurity and instability,” Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said. “Instead, we have missed the opportunity of 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.”

    India, which had no veto power, backed Russia’s position, stating that global warming is largely a matter of economic development.

    The resolution also called on the UN chief within two years to submit a report “on the security implications (…) of the adverse effects of climate change” and recommendations to address these risks.

    US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Russia’s veto has “no justification.” “The climate crisis is a security crisis,” she said.

    The ambassadors of Ireland and Niger, Geraldine Byrne Nason and Abdou Abarri, strongly condemned the existence of a veto in the Security Council, which, since World War II, has remained the prerogative of only five of its permanent members (the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom).

    According to them, this right is an anachronism that could prevent the Council from fulfilling its mandate of peace and security.


    Climate controversy

    On Thursday, Nigerian President Mohamed Bazum arrived at the UN to speak out in support of the resolution. “It is high time for the Council, as part of its prevention mandate, to consider the security risks of climate change as an additional element of our peace and security architecture,” he explained.

    “The direct link between terrorism and climate change is far from clear to us,” Nebenzia replied, adding that the resolution “would create confusion and repetition” with other forums dealing with global warming.

    Russia does not dispute the impact of climate change on conflicts, but “each country and region should be looked at individually.” “General and automatic approaches to addressing the causes of the conflict distract the Security Council from resolving these issues,” the Russian ambassador repeated on December 13.

    According to Niger, whose resolution was supported by 113 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly, the Security Council should take a “comprehensive and coordinated approach” to understand the impact of climate change.

    France also believes that there is a “clear link” between global warming and security, as access to water, food shortages and climate insecurity allow “armed groups to thrive” by taking advantage of the vulnerability of populations, the French official said.

    US spokesman Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she was “discouraged that Russia has prevented this important step from dealing with the consequences of the climate crisis.”

    “Given the magnitude of the task, this resolution was the smallest we could do. Today the veto on this resolution failed the world, and there is no excuse for making this decision,” she said.

    The last time Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council was in July 2020, when it voted on a resolution on cross-border assistance to Syria.

    In November, US President Joe Biden criticized Russia and China, whose leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping did not attend the UN Glasgow Climate Conference COP26.

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