There are three sets of reasons for a palpable rise in nuclear anxieties around the world: growing nuclear arsenals and expanding roles for nuclear weapons, a crumbling arms-control architecture, and irresponsible statements from the leaders of some nuclear-armed states.
The security implications of climate change have increasingly been debated in the United Nations Security Council. Yet, there is a growing concern by many UN member states about the lack of adequate responses to the risks that climate change poses to peace and security. In recent years, some modest but notable changes at the UN have taken place, of which the creation of the Climate Security Mechanism is the primary example.
There are no shortages of statistics and data on the increasing rapidity with which our climate is changing, or on its effects. While rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, and extremes in temperature are well-chronicled, the cascading impacts that a transformed climate will have on global peace and security are less clearly understood. This is all the more important since the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide frameworks for addressing climate change for the international community, yet stop short of including peace and security. In light of its mandate, the extent to which the United Nations Security Council can or should take steps on climate-related peace and security issues is an increasingly urgent question.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) is at a precipice. The Trump administration’s recent announcement that the US would no longer abide by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the multilateral agreement to restrict Iran’s ability to acquire and develop nuclear weapons – breaks both a UNSC agreement and UNSC procedure. Breaking the JCPOA has the potential to undermine the UNSC’s legitimacy and the important functions it serves; the value the permanent five members of the UNSC (P5) place on the UNSC as a deliberative, policy-producing body in international politics is unlikely to persist amidst repeated, major violations of UNSC agreements and procedures by the P5, with downstream consequences for a broad swathe of international peace and security outcomes.
In May the UN Security Council adopted a wide-ranging resolution designed to protect health care in conflict. On September 28, under New Zealand’s leadership, it will have a briefing and consultation on the resolution, designated 2286, including consideration of the Secretary General’s extensive recommendations for its implementation.
Although Resolution 2286 was a welcomed landmark, the upcoming discussion of next steps challenges member states to take the strong actions needed to lessen the likelihood of attacks on hospitals and health workers and to impose severe consequences on perpetrators of such attacks. But the session represents more than that: After the paralysis the Security Council has exhibited in light of the horrific, relentless attack on an aid convey in Syria on September 20, the very credibility of the Council is at stake.