With an estimated 3.5 billion people living in “climate hot spots”, related peace and security risks are only set to heighten, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that action must be taken to avert ever-worsening effects.
Climate shocks are triggering worsening security environments, from Afghanistan to Mali, and UN peacekeeping missions are taking steps to adapt, from reducing their carbon footprint to addressing myriad related consequences.
“Given the growing linkages of climate change, peace, and security as well as the broader changes to the conflict dynamics in the areas in which we work, we must continue to adapt,” he said.
He noted that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, showed that climatic and such risks as biodiversity loss and violent conflict will increasingly interact.
At the Security Council’s second formal meeting of 2023 to debate this trend, more than 70 speakers, including former Colombian President and Nobel Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos, exchanged views on connections between climate change and worsening security.
Providing an overview of current efforts, Mr. Lacroix said that within the past several years, most UN peace operations have faced greater dangers and political challenges.
“Cross-border challenges, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events, amplified by climate change, are increasingly challenging our ability to implement our mandates,” he said. “We already see a strong correlation between Member States facing fragility and those facing climate change.”
Of the 16 countries that are the most climate vulnerable, nine of them host a UN field mission: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen, he said, emphasizing that the majority of UN peace operations are deployed in contexts that are both highly climate exposed and characterized by high levels of gender inequality.
While UN field missions do not hold the “ultimate solution” to climate change, they are “profoundly” affected by its impact, he said.
“Our missions witness first-hand the dual vulnerabilities posed by climate change and insecurity,” he said, offering several examples, from Mali to South Sudan.
As such, priority areas for action in UN field missions include investing in capacities to anticipate and address climate and security linkages, reinforcing the mutual benefits of climate action and making environments safer, and making sure the missions do not become part of the problem, he said.
“Guided by the Environmental Strategy for Peace Operations, the UN is progressively introducing renewable energy solutions, reducing our environmental footprint while also minimizing the security risk for fuel convoys,” he said.
Noting that in 2021 and 2022, six per cent of the electricity used by UN peace operations was generated from renewable energy sources, he welcomed such new initiatives as the Nepal-United States partnership to deploy a large-scale solar hybrid system in Rumbek, South Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates and Norway launch of the Energy Compact in Peace Operations.
“The deployment of dedicated capacity on climate, peace, and security in a growing number of field missions has been a game changer,” he said. “Integrating climate considerations across their work has strengthened missions’ abilities to implement the mandates given by this Council.
Mr. Lacroix said the 2023 UN Peacekeeping ministerial meeting to be held in in Ghana in December, will provide additional opportunities to strengthen efforts through the generation of pledges that meet needs, from specialized capabilities to equipping partnerships in such key areas as the environment.
“Together we can build a future where our efforts in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping reinforce and are complemented by our commitment to addressing the climate crisis,” he said.
Call for Security Council action
Former Colombian President and Nobel Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos called on the Security Council to do more.
“We are at a moment in history where the world is at risk of dividing into blocs which compete for power and supremacy over each other, rather than cooperating to address the unprecedented challenges and existential threats that we all face,” he said.
Despite the desire by some members of the Council to treat climate change and security as separate issues, in the real world the consequences of climate change and conflict very clearly converge, he said.
“Climate change exacerbates threats to human security, and war damages nature and the environment in numerous ways, from the destruction of dams – just look at Ukraine – to attacks on oil pipelines and agricultural land that sustains rural communities,” he said.
The Security Council must step up and play its part in addressing the unprecedented challenge of climate insecurity, working with other parts of the UN and other international institutions to find sustainable and just solutions, he said, suggesting such actions as integrating climate more effectively into UN operations on the ground, having more climate and security advisors attached to peacekeeping missions, and using climate forecasting as part of the UN’s prevention toolkits to anticipate and mitigate risk in fragile contexts.
“There cannot be peace without sustainable development, and there cannot be sustainable development without peace,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Peace can only be maintained if the very forests, soils, and rivers that communities depend on are protected and managed sustainably, he said.
“We need bold policy action,” he said. “We must redouble our efforts not only in mitigation and adaptation but in nature-positive solutions including conserving high-integrity forests, peatlands, coral reefs, and other ecosystems that provide humanity with clean air, clean water.”
Calling on Council members to find common ground, constructive dialogue, and cooperation, he said, there is only one way forward, he said: “Unite, cooperate, or we will all perish.”