The story so far : On December 13, India joined Russia in opposing a draft proposal at the United Nations Security Council which would effectively bring climate change in the Security Council’s purview, allowing it to enforce and hold countries accountable for their promises to mitigate global warming. The proposal was sponsored by Niger and Ireland, who claimed that 113 countries, which included permanent Security Council members U.S., the U.K., and France, backed their view to integrate climate-related security risks into the UNSC’s conflict prevention mandate. However, after a heated debate and a strong counter by Indian Permanent Representative T.S.Tirumurti, the proposal was vetoed by Russia, and the UNSC recorded 12 in favour, 2 against as well as an abstention from China.
Why are sponsors keen to introduce climate change into the UNSC mandate?
Climate change has been discussed at the UNSC since 2007, and several UNSC statements reference the impact of global warming on conflicts. Both Niger and Ireland pointed out that people in countries most vulnerable to climate change are also most vulnerable to terror groups and violence, attempting to connect both to the UNSC’s mandate on peacekeeping. They said climate-related conflicts over arable land, food security, desertification and forced migration, the increase in climate refugees due to global warming would all eventually lead to conflicts that the UNSC needs to weigh in on. According to a report by Peace Research Institute SIPRI, 10 of 21 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations are located in countries ranked as most exposed to climate change. Some commentators in favour, said it was only after 2000 when the UNSC passed Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security that gender violence in conflict really entered the debate, and hoped they could do the same for climate. Niger’s representative said if the Security Council could pass a resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic and health security (UNSCR 2565 (2021)), why could climate security not be addressed there?
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Why did India vote with Russia?
Apart from close multilateral cooperation with Russia, reaffirmed during a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Foreign and Defence Minister 2+2 on December 6, India’s stand on the proposal is consistent with a desire not to allow the UNSC too broad a mandate to “intervene” and overreach on sovereign issues. While the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which held the CoP conference in Glasgow last month collates the voluntary contributions of countries in order to battle climate change and promote sustainability, India believes these are not issues where the UNSC should interfere. Mr. Tirumurti said while India is “second to none” on keeping its climate commitments and fighting for climate justice, it would be “misleading” to view conflicts through the prism of climate change worldwide. India even suggested that it would support a more limited draft that focused exclusively on the Sahel region of North Africa, where desertification of arid areas is directly sparking water-related conflict, but this was not considered, and India then recorded its first negative vote in this term at the UNSC. The Chinese representative, also said that UNSC should only consider security risks driven by climate change, based on “country-by-country or situation-by-situation” analysis.
Will the climate security proposal be reviewed and resubmitted?
Given the strong support the proposal has received, and the numerically small opposition from Russia and India at the UNSC at present, it is unlikely that the issue will go away, and it is only a matter of time before American, European, African and Latin American countries come together with another proposal to introduce climate change to the Security Council’s mandate. The current proposal is a revised version of a draft proposed by Germany that was opposed in the UNSC in 2020. According to its backers, the real objective is to ensure that the UNSC considers the impact of climate change along with other causes of conflicts it is debating. However, those opposed to it, which include about 80 countries, say that bringing climate change into an already polarised Security Council, torn between the U.S., the U.K. and France versus Russia and China will only deepen schisms over an issue that concerns the whole globe and requires an undivided approach. As one of the most populous countries in the UNSC at present, and representing a region that is itself highly exposed to the risks of climate change, India’s voice will be important in deciding the debate between securitising climate change, and ensuring the global peacekeeping body doesn’t overstep its mandate.