The role of the United Nations Security Council

On 17 April 2007, at its 5663rd meeting, the Security Council held an historic event - its first debate on the relationship between energy, security and climate (UN Security Council, 2007). The discussion was held at the request of the UK, which held the council presidency at that time.

The British wanted to address 'the security implications of a changing climate, including through its impact on potential drivers of conflict (such as access to energy, water, food and other scarce resources, population movements and border disputes)'. In a letter to the council, the UK pointed out - quite correctly - that no other major international forum had addressed these topics from this perspective. They also recognized that 'it is for other United Nations bodies (in particular, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to pursue other aspects of climate change that are not within the mandate of the Security Council (including action to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a safe level, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities)'. In particular, the British sought a discussion on the potential impact of climate change upon key security risks, including border disputes, migration, energy supplies, other resource shortages, societal stress and humanitarian crises. Their pre-meeting letter on the subject presented a stark warning:

The cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict - for example, where weak governance and political processes cannot mediate successfully between competing interests. (UN Security Council, 2007)

Other governments agreed with this assessment, and the debate was well attended. Many of the 55 speakers - from European neighbours to small island states in the Pacific - endorsed the UK's efforts to raise the profile of the issue and the potential role of the Security Council in addressing the security implications of climate change.

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