Climate change and security risks

There is an emerging global consensus that climate change will stress the economic, social, and political systems that underpin each nation state.

Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, the risks to the stability of states and societies will increase. Climate change is the ultimate “threat multiplier” aggravating already fragile situations and potentially contributing to further social tensions and upheaval.

UN Environment’s initial work on climate change and security began when it was requested by Jan Egeland, the UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, to conduct an analysis of climate change and security risks in the Sahel Region. The UN Special Envoy visited the region in 2008 and concluded it was “ground zero” for climate change risks due to its extreme climatic conditions and highly vulnerable population.

In 2009, UN Environment partnered with IOM, OCHA, UNU, and CILSS to investigate the implications of climate change for livelihoods, conflict and migration across the Sahel region. The resulting report “Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel” (2011) identifies 19 hotspots where climatic changes have been most severe over the past 20 years. It concludes that climate change effects on resource availability have already led to migration, and increased competition over scarce resources in some of the hotspots.

As a follow-up to this initial work, UN Environment was requested in 2009 by the UN Secretary General to provide technical inputs to the drafting of the report to the General Assembly entitled “Climate Change and its Possible Security Implications” (A/64/350).

UN Environment’s Executive Director was invited to address the Security Council in 2011. This thematic debate resulted in the Security Council Presidential Statement S/PRST/2011/15 on climate change. In the statement, the council requested the Secretary General to report on the possible security implications of climate change when such issues are drivers of conflict, represent a challenge to the implementation of Council mandates or endanger the process of consolidation of peace.

The next major international milestone was the report “A New Climate for Peace,” commissioned by G7 foreign ministries, was launched in New York in June 2015. Based in part on substantive contributions by UNEP, the report identifies seven key compound climate and fragility risks that should form the basis for united action. These include local resource competition, livelihood insecurity and migration, volatile food prices and provision, transboundary water management, and unintended effects of climate change policies.

As a direct follow-up to the G7 report, UN Environment has established a partnership with the EU to address the security implications of climate change in two pilot countries. At the national level, UN Environment will develop and deploy a state-of-the-art methodology to help stakeholders map and prioritize climate change and security hotspots. UN Environment will then help key national stakeholders identify the most suitable combination of physical and institutional investments to reduce specific security threats.

At the local level, UN Environment will work directly with communities to pilot test innovative approaches to measuring and building resilience to a range of different climate change and security risks. A combination of different approaches to build resilience will be tested ranging from ecosystem restoration and improved resource management, to the development of social capital and early warning mechanisms, to training, monitoring and local institution building. UN Environment will either provide additional funding to help existing climate change adaptation projects understand and address security risks, or help scale-up existing good practices.

Findings and best practices will be documented and communicated to the relevant global and trans-regional institutions to improve the knowledge base and further inform more effective field-level policies and programmes. This will ensure the partnership has a global reach and influence beyond the boundaries of the pilot countries.

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