Tim Bosch


Tim Bosch is a research assistant at the newly founded Center for Climate and Foreign Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, DGAP). He holds a Bachelor in International Relations from Dresden University of Technology and a Master in International Security from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). His areas of interest include international institutions, climate governance, human security and the interlinkages between environmental degradation, climate change and (in)security.

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Sustaining peace and sustained headwinds:

The UN’s climate, peace and security agenda in a difficult environment
26. April 2022
UN’s Assistance Mission in Somalia | UNSOM, flickr

As climate-related security threats are emerging more frequently and intensely, the United Nations (UN) has begun to include climate considerations in its peace and security work. This developing agenda is currently confronted with multiple challenges: First, due to the topic’s relatively recent emergence, there is an ongoing search for an institutional anchoring point within the organization. Second, robust financing remains an unmet need considering the simultaneity of global crises.

Efforts to promote a holistic approach to peace and security at the multilateral level are especially threatened in light of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Russia’s blatant disregard for international legal principles and institutions is likely to impede and undermine various processes in the realm of peace and security, to include climate security and peacebuilding.

Against this backdrop, actors promoting the climate-security-peace nexus should prepare to operate in a difficult environment.

Aspirations for a mainstreaming agenda within the Peacebuilding Architecture

While climate security has so far been discussed mostly within the Security Council (UNSC), it has been argued that in the long-run, the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) should become the focal point for the topic. With the support of the other institutions of the so-called Peacebuilding Architecture (PBA) (i.e. the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO)), the PBC is in principle well-positioned to address climate issues as it assumes a bridging role between the UNSC as the primary body responsible for peace and security and the General Assembly. Furthermore, the PBC brings together expertise from across the UN system, including institutions like the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Indeed, the PBC has already begun to integrate climate change in its work since 2018, for instance, by holding joint sessions with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) or by considering the topic in regional and thematic discussions. Hopes that the PBC could systemically integrate climate issues in its work have been spurred following the 2020 review of the Peacebuilding Architecture under the motto ‘peacebuilding and sustaining peace’. The sustaining peace agenda aims at employing “comprehensive cross-pillar approaches to peace”, thus broadening the purview of peacebuilding to include expertise from across the UN system.

Nonetheless, the prospects for an overarching climate, peace and security doctrine currently remain rather uncertain. For instance, the 2020 Secretary-General’s report concluding the review of the PBA makes only occasional reference to climate-related threats and fragility, while the concomitant UNSC resolution does not refer to climate at all. Considering the extensive knowledge that has already been generated on the climate-security-peace nexus, this may appear as a missed opportunity.

Continued scepticism and the relevance of veto players

Moreover, a systematic climate, peace and security agenda within UN peacebuilding would likely need the support of the UNSC, ideally through the adoption of a landmark resolution. The blueprint for this scenario is the agenda-setting role that resolution 1325 on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) has played in peacebuilding, including in the PBC’s work. Drawing on a specially designed gender strategy, the PBC promotes engagement with women peacebuilders and systematically includes gender concerns in program design. However, a resolution on ‘climate, peace and security’ in parallel to resolution 1325 is unlikely to emerge in the near future. While the UNSC has discussed the role of climate change as a threat multiplier and its effect on instability, some states oppose the inclusion of climate within the realm of the UNSC and peacebuilding. As a permanent member and veto player, Russia, in particular, has assumed the position of persistent objector. Absent an enabling resolution, the PBC’s room for maneuver may remain limited.

It should also be noted that Russia is a member of the PBC’s Organizational Committee, which, according to the resolution establishing the PBC, is tasked with defining the Commission’s agenda. Since the Organizational Committee acts in all matters on the basis of consensus, political pushback can also be expected from within the PBC.

Sustaining peace one step at a time: The case for pragmatism

Considering these sustained headwinds, rather than hoping for a major political breakthrough, a piecemeal process might, for now, prove more successful. This would entail that PBC members and experts continue to raise climate risks and the adverse effects of climate impacts in discussions on country situations and regional assessments whenever these are visible. Continuing to build on precedent and highlighting the opportunities of climate-sensitive peacebuilding, a body of evidence is likely to emerge. Bringing together threads from across country and thematic cases, a more coherent climate agenda may eventually develop. It would also be useful to advocate for the inclusion of climate experts on an ad hoc basis in regional mission mandates. For example, the UN’s Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) plays a pioneering role as it includes the first UN climate security advisor within a peace mission.

Moreover, states looking to promote the climate-peace nexus should increase financial contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund. As highlighted in the 2020 Secretary-General’s report, adequate peacebuilding finance remains a field where relatively little progress has been made. Closing financial gaps could be beneficial since the PBF already addresses climate as a cross-cutting issue and cooperates with the Climate Security Mechanism established by UNEP, UNDP and the Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

Finally, UN bodies and agencies outside the PBA should also do their part by further exploring ways to mainstream a climate security component in their respective work. Organizations with mandates in human security, natural resource governance and sustainable development can designate peace advisors and include conflict risk analyses in regional assessments. Promising work has already been done in this respect: For instance, in 2011, in partnership with other expert bodies and organizations, UNEP investigated the links between climate change, conflict risks and migration in the Sahel. A second example is UNEP’s project work in partnership with the European Union, which identified ways to strengthen resilience to climate-fragility risks at the global, national and local level. A further case in point in this regard is the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which designated a Special Advisor on Climate Action in 2019.

While political efforts towards including climate in peacebuilding doctrine should continue, pragmatic approaches may lead the way into the future. Seizing opportunities to highlight the various links between climate, security, and sustaining peace could prove useful in a time when climate-related security risks will only become more apparent.

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