U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry urged the U.N. Security Council Tuesday to start treating the climate crisis like the “urgent security threat” that it is.
“The climate threat is so massive, so multifaceted, that it is impossible to disentangle it from other challenges that the Security Council faces,” Kerry told a virtual summit on climate and conflict.
“We bury our heads in the sand at our peril,” he cautioned.
His participation at the summit comes just days after the United States officially rejoined the Paris Agreement, reversing a Trump administration decision to leave the landmark pact. Kerry said that was “an inexcusable absence by our country from this debate.”
The main international instrument for mitigating climate change is the 2015 Paris Agreement. Signed by virtually every country in the world, it aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit the planet’s temperature increase during this century to 2 degrees Celsius, while working to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees.
Most of the international climate debate focuses on the environmental impact of global warming, but Tuesday’s meeting was intended to highlight the ripple effect that it has on peace and security.
“Climate disruption is a crisis amplifier and multiplier,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the 15-nation council. “Where climate change dries up rivers, reduces harvests, destroys critical infrastructure and displaces communities, it exacerbates the risks of instability and conflict.”
A Swedish study found in 2018 that eight of the 10 countries hosting the largest U.N. peacekeeping operations were in areas highly exposed to climate change.
“Whether you like it or not, it is a matter of when, not if, your country and your people will have to deal with the security impacts of climate change,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the meeting.
French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the council name a special envoy for climate security to coordinate its work in this area.
“I can only see advantages in having a report from the secretary-general every year to the Security Council on the impact of international security and climate change in order to plan ahead, to warn us, and to make recommendations so we can play our role,” Macron said.
But not every member agreed that the council is the right forum for considering climate change.
“We agree that climatic changes and environmental problems can exacerbate conflicts,” said Moscow’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. “But are they the root cause? This is rather doubtful.”
He said Russia agrees that there is an “urgent need” to respond to climate change, but believes it should be done within specific mechanisms, including the Paris Agreement.