The following explainer seeks to outline some of the most serious implications of climate change for security.

Climate and Security at the UN Security Council: Explainer


Over the course of the past decade, the UN Security Council has grown increasingly cognisant of the threat that climate change poses to security around the globe. Despite the fact that there has not yet been a dedicated UN Security Council resolution on climate change, the evolution of the Security Council’s position is evidenced by the proliferation of official meetings on this issue. Moreover, while the security implications of unabated climate change in certain countries have been well documented, the question as to whether climate change should even be considered on the Security Council agenda at all remains a divisive one.

Against this background, the following explainer seeks to outline some of the most serious implications of climate change for security as well as examining the unique role that Ireland can play on climate and security during its two-year membership of the UNSC. In addition, a timeline provides an overview of the key meetings which have taken place on climate and security at the UNSC to date. Finally, in the context Ireland’s role as co-chair of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security, there is a spotlight on Niger and its partnership with Ireland at the UNSC on this issue.


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 Climate and Security at the UN Security Council: Timeline


The UN Security Council (UNSC) has held six open debates specifically on the challenges posed to international peace and security by climate change — in 2007201120182019, 2020 and 2021 — while also addressing the issue at Arria formula meetings and within broader debates on water security, conflict prevention, and complex challenges to peace. Furthermore, the UNSC has included references to climate security risks in resolutions related to SomaliaDarfurWest Africa and the SahelMali, and the Lake Chad Basin. The following timeline provides an overview of the key meetings on climate and security which have taken place at the UN Security Council to date:

UN Security Council Engagement on Climate and Security

2021
February 01

February 2021

February 2021

In February 2021, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, addressed the Security Council on behalf of Ireland in a briefing on climate and security, for the first time as an elected member, during the UK Presidency. The debate focused on conflict risks, peacebuilding approaches and ways to support adaptation and resilience in climate-vulnerable contexts. UNSC members were briefed by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and British naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. Notably, this meeting marked the return of a more engaged United States, which was represented by the new US climate envoy, John Kerry.

Minister Coveney highlighted how the impacts of climate change can undermine international peace and security and the importance of Security Council engagement on the matter to achieve a more peaceful world. Moreover, he outlined the importance of the climate and security agenda to Ireland’s tenure on the Security Council:

We are chairing the Informal Expert Group of Member States on this topic, together with Niger. This group provides a vital platform for sharing information on the why and how of climate action in the context of building and sustaining peace.”

2020
July 13

July 2020

July 2020

In July 2020, the German Presidency of the Security Council held the fifth high-level open debate on climate and security. The debate largely highlighted that climate change is a threat-multiplier, with most statements focusing on adherence to the Paris Agreement and other international commitments, as well as the need for a climate-sensitive response in peacekeeping. The geographical focus on the security implications of climate change was on the Sahel region and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, delivered a speech on behalf of Ireland as an incoming elected member of the UNSC. He emphasised that the link between climate change and security is already being factored into the planning of the Irish defence forces. In his speech, he echoed calls for the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on Climate and Security and provide contextual reporting, and for the UNSC to enhance the inclusion of climate-related security risks into its peacekeeping mandates.

2019
April 13

January 2019

January 2019

In January 2019, the Dominican Republic Presidency of the Security Council held the fourth high-level open debate on the impacts of climate-related disasters on international peace and security, which saw an unprecedented number of member states take the floor, many at ministerial level. At this meeting, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, insisted on the need to focus on three key areas:

  • Developing stronger analytical capacity with integrated risk assessment frameworks.
  • Collecting a stronger evidence base, so that good practices on climate risk prevention and management can be replicated in the field.
  • Building and reinforcing partnerships to leverage existing capacities within and outside the UN system.
2018
June 13

July 2018

July 2018

In July 2018, the Swedish Presidency of the Security Council held the third high-level open debate on addressing climate-related security risks. The debate emphasised the need for the international community to step up its overall efforts to tackle climate change and sent a clear message to the Security Council, and the rest of the United Nations system, to intensify efforts to establish the capacities and practices to address climate-related security risks.

March 13

March 2018

March 2018

In March 2018, the Netherlands Presidency of the Security Council held a briefing on climate-fragility risks in the Lake Chad region as the United Nations marked World Water Day. The meeting had a specific focus on the root causes of the Boko Haram crisis including water and climate change, socio-economic challenges, and the lack of inclusion and empowerment of women.

2017
December 17

December 2017

December 2017

In December 2017, a wide range of UNSC members and incoming members, including France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Peru, Germany, the Maldives and Morocco co-organised an Arria formula meeting on the topic of “Preparing for security implications of rising temperatures”. The former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and the President of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington D.C. think tank, were among the briefers.

  • Arria-formula meetings are informal meetings convened at the initiative of a member or members of the Security Council in order to hear the views of individuals, organisations or institutions on matters within the competence of the Security Council. While the purpose for holding Arria-formula meetings has evolved over the years, they are frequently used to hear from civil-society briefers where there is no UNSC agreement to include civil-society briefers in a formal meeting.
2015
February 06

June 2015

June 2015

In June 2015, Spain and Malaysia co-chaired an Arria formula meeting on the “role of climate change as a threat multiplier for global security”. Former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, was the keynote speaker representing the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). There were also briefings from a representative of an indigenous rights association based in Kiribati and a Professor of Climate Change Law from Columbia University.

2013
February 02

February 2013

February 2013

In February 2013, the UK and Pakistan co-chaired an Arria formula meeting on the “Security Dimensions of Climate Change”. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made brief remarks at the start of the meeting, followed by presentations from a panel of speakers including the then Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands; the Head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research; the World Bank Vice-President for Sustainable Development; and the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states.

2011
July 12

July 2011

July 2011

In July 2011, the German Presidency of the Security Council held the second high-level open debate on the impact of climate change on the maintenance of international peace and security. The main outcome of this debate was a Presidential statement, which recognised that “the possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

2007
April 01

April 2007

April 2007

In April 2007the United Kingdom Presidency of the Security Council held the first high-level open debate on the interlinkages between energy, climate, and security. While some speakers praised the initiative, there were reservations from other member states, which saw climate change as a socio-economic development issue to be dealt with by the more widely representative UN General Assembly.


Climate and Security at the UN Security Council: Niger and Ireland


Niger is a landlocked country in West Africa, with a population of approximately 23 million people. It is a nation that suffers from frequent droughts, insurgency and widespread poverty. According to the UN’s latest human development index rankings for 189 countries, Niger is ranked as the world’s least developed nation. Ireland’s policy for international development, A Better World, endeavours to address such global disparities, in countries such as Niger, by reaching the furthest behind first.

Climate vulnerability is intrinsically linked to security issues in Niger, as recurrent droughts, flooding and food insecurity in the Sahel region have exacerbated the outbreak of violent conflict and forced migration.

Niger had its first democratic transfer of power after Mohamed Bazoum was sworn in as President on 2 April 2021. The inauguration came days after the government thwarted an attempted military coup and marks the first time an elected leader has peacefully handed power to another since independence in 1960.

As co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security for 2021, Ireland and Niger will work closely to ensure information sharing on the why and how of climate action in the context of building and sustaining peace in the Sahel region and beyond.

As co-penholders on the West Africa and Sahel file (UNOWAS), Ireland and Niger led negotiations among Security Council members in the adoption of a Presidential Statement on UNOWAS in February 2021.