Climate Security at the UNSC - A Short History

CSEN experts contribute to political engagement with climate-related security risks in a variety of international fora. The following synthesis presents an introduction to how the UN Security Council – a focus point for CSEN – has engaged with climate-related security risks in the past.


Responsibility for climate-related security risks falls to different institutions within the United Nations system. No single entity is responsible for coordinating activities on joint risk assessment or risk management assistance. Through the UNFCCC and the Paris Climate Agreement, the world has made significant progress in building global institutions for addressing climate change. Yet, it has made less progress in building frameworks for addressing the concurrent risks of social and political instability, insecurity and conflict that arise from the interaction of climate change with social, economic, demographic and political factors. Whereas these issues touch the mandates of many UN organs and agencies, the UN Charter assigns the UN Security Council a pre-eminent role with respect to safeguarding international peace and security. As climate change is becoming an increasingly stronger force in disrupting human, national and international security, the Security Council is facing rising demands to address these security risks.

On this page you will find an overview on the following topics:

How has the UN Security Council engaged on climate-related security risks so far?

The Security Council is increasingly recognising that international peace and security depend on comprehensive engagement with the core drivers of conflict. These core drivers include economic, social and environmental issues, in particular grievances related to marginalisation and loss of livelihoods. Although there has not yet been a dedicated UNSC resolution on climate change per se, the Council's position has slowly evolved: it now acknowledges security risks related to climate change and calls for appropriate risk assessment and management in specific geographic contexts. (For a more detailed overview of UNSC actions on climate-related security risks see the table at the bottom of this page). 

  • In April 2007, the Security Council first discussed the interlinkages between energy, climate, and security under the Presidency of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (S/PV.5663).
  • Two years later, in June 2009, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/RES/63/281, proposed by the Pacific Small Island Developing States (Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu), which asked the UN Secretary-General to produce a comprehensive report on climate change and its possible security implications.

  • Published in September 2009, the report (A/64/350) highlighted climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ with the potential to exacerbate existing threats to international peace and security.

  • In July 2011, the German Presidency of the Security Council took the initiative to consolidate the topic within the UN framework by calling an Open Debate on climate change's impact on the maintenance of international peace and security. The main objectives of this Open Debate were to strengthen the profile of climate change on the foreign policy agenda and to form and strengthen international alliances to drive the necessary processes to address the issue.

  • In the context of this debate, the Council agreed on a presidential statement (S/PRST/2011/15), in which it recognises that “the possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security”, and calls for conflict analysis and contextual information.

  • In 2013, 2015 and 2017, the UK, Pakistan, Spain, Malaysia and Italy hosted Arria formula debates on the security implications of rising temperatures. In 2018, the Netherlands initiated a UNSC briefing on climate-fragility risks in the Lake Chad region.

  • Another UNSC debate then took place in July 2018 under the Swedish Security Council presidency, reflecting on progress and on further needs for the Council to more effectively assess and address security risks related to climate change.

  • In January 2019, the Dominican Republic initiated an 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.

  • During its Security Council presidency in July 2020, Germany together with nine other UNSC Member States organised a high-level debate on climate change and security. German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas announced the creation of an Informal Expert Group on climate-related risks to peace and security and called for a Special Representative on Climate and Security. Many ministerial colleagues echoed the importance of the issue, drawing attention to a number of affected UN missions. 

  • The inaugural meeting of the Informal Expert Group in November 2020 saw the participation of 19 countries, i.e. all current and 4 out of the 5 incoming UNSC members, underlining the support for the newly created body. The meeting provided Council members with an opportunity to discuss operational responses to climate-related security risks, focusing on Somalia. The local UN mission is the first to appoint an Environmental Security Advisor. Niger and Ireland share the presidency of the IEG in 2021, which has since met to discuss climate security challenges facing the Sahel.

  • The Council terms of the Republics of Ireland and Kenya, as well as the Kingdom of Norway promise to continue the engagement with climate change as a foreign policy and security issue throughout 2021 and 2022. These three of the five incoming non-permanent members have promised to deepen the climate security-related work previous Council members engaged in and spoke at the Berlin Climate and Security Conference 2020. Watch the statements of Kenya and Norway here (during the panel debate) and Ireland's statement here.

  • In February 2021, the UNSC convened for a high-level open debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Climate and security”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired the debate held under the UK’s presidency. Briefers included Mr. António Guterres (Secretary-General of the United Nations), Mr. David Attenborough (English broadcaster and naturalist), and Ms. Nisreen Elsaim, (Sudanese climate activist and Chair of UN Secretary General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change). Several heads of state and government (e.g. Niger, France, Norway) and foreign ministers (e.g. Mexico, Ireland) participated in the debate. Most speakers stressed that climate change presents a collective security threat and acts as a risk multiplier. Many countries underlined the need to further operationalise the climate-security agenda.

  • In March 2021, the members of the Security Council held an open debate on conflict and food security, organised by the United States. The debate underlined that the UNSC is increasingly concerned with less “traditional” security issues such as food insecurity and famine. Those interested in the complex interactions between climate, food and conflict, can learn more here.

  • Also in March 2021, the United States government informed the Permanent Representatives on the UNSC of its desire to join the Group of Friends on Climate and Security.

UNSC resolutions on specific regions

The discussions on climate-related security risks in the UNSC have led to several resolutions on specific regions that emphasise the adverse effects of climate change and - more importantly - request the operationalization of this issue through adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies. These references have entered into resolutions and presidential statements on:

These resolutions underscore the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies and, in the case of Darfur, requested that the Secretary-General “provide information on such assessments in mandated reporting as appropriate”. The UNSC Presidential Statement of 7 August 2019 on the issue of peace consolidation in West Africa concluded that regional tensions were driven by “competition for natural resources, rapid population growth, weak governance, and pressures related to climate and ecological factors”. It also invited the Secretary General to present to the Council recommendations and observations on the effects of climate change on security, among other issues. In the same Presidential Statement, the Council recognised “the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural disasters, including through drought, desertification, land degradation and food insecurity among other factors on the stability of West Africa and the Sahel region” and again emphasised “the need for long-term strategies, based on risk assessments, by governments and the United Nations, to support stabilisation and build resilience”. It also encouraged UNOWAS to continue to integrate this information in its activities.

Initiatives to address climate-related risks

Although the impacts of climate-related events on security are widely known, concrete and joint action in tackling climate-related security risks is only just starting to pick up momentum. Since the links between climate and security are global in nature, there is a need for an institution that systematically assesses climate-security risks or coordinates actions on these risks at the international level. At present, there are several initiatives dedicated to the assessment and coordination of climate-related security risks:

  • The formation of a "Group of Friends on Climate and Security", composed of more than 50 UN member states from across all continents and the UN’s regional groups, illustrates the increasing support of governments from around the world and their shared goal of addressing climate-related security risks. The group’s objective is to enhance the importance of climate change and security on the political agenda, to develop joint solutions for climate change impacts on security policy and to raise public awareness.
  • The Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security of Members of the UNSC, founded in 2020, serves as a venue for Council Members to discuss the operational challenges arising from climate-related security risks for UN missions and other operations, and to identify possible responses in close coordination with global experts.

  • The Climate Security Mechanism (CSM) serves to build a more comprehensive UN response to climate-related security risks. It is located in the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA; formerly DPA) with staff allocated to it by the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme as well as by the DPPA. It also has ties to other practitioners from within and beyond the UN system.

  • In 2018, Germany established an independent Climate Security Expert Network that has provided assessments of climate-related security risks and risk management strategies to help inform UN responses.

UNSC actions on climate- or environment-related security issues since 2007

Date Subject Type of Meeting

 Initiator(s)

Apr 2007

Energy, Security and Climate

Open Debate

UK

June 2007

Natural Resources and Conflict

Open Debate

Belgium

July 2011

Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Impact of Climate Change

Open Debate

Germany

Feb 2013

Security Dimensions of Climate Change

Arria Formula

UK/Pakistan

June 2013

Conflict Prevention and Natural Resources

Open Debate

UK

June 2015

Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier

Arria Formula

Spain/Malaysia

July 2015

Peace and Security Challenges Facing Small Island Developing States

Arria Formula

New Zealand

Nov 2015

Illicit Arms Transfers and Poaching in Africa

Arria Formula

Angola/Lithuania

April 2016

Water, Peace and Security

Arria Formula

Senegal

May 2016

The Sahel: Impact of Climate Change and Desertification

Briefing

Spain/Egypt

Nov 2016

Water, Peace and Security

Open Debate

Senegal

June 2017

Preventive Diplomacy and Transboundary Waters

Briefing

Bolivia

Dec 2017

Climate Change

Arria Formula

France, Italy, Japan, Sweden the UK, the Netherlands and Peru, Germany, the Maldives and Morocco

Dec 2017

Addressing Complex Contemporary Challenges to International Peace and Security

Open Debate

Japan

July 2018

Climate Related Security Risks

Open Debate

Sweden

Oct 2018

The Role of Natural Resources as a Root Cause of Conflict

Briefing

Bolivia

Oct 2018

Water, Peace and Security

Arria Formula

Bolivia, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and Italy

Nov 2018

Protection of the Environment during Armed Conflict

Arria Formula

Kuwait

Jan 2019

The Impacts of Climate-Related Disasters on International Peace and Security

Open Debate

Dominican Republic

July 2020 Climate and Security Open Debate Germany, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and Viet Nam
Feb 2021 Maintenance of international peace and security: Climate and security Open Debate United Kingdom