Climate and security

Incipient climate change not only threatens the environment and thus the foundations of our livelihoods, but could also amplify regional and international tensions. German foreign policy must thus take account of climate change in creating strategies to preserve peace and working to prevent conflicts. Germany is already actively working in this direction, for example as a member of the UN Security Council for 2011-12.

Climate change can be destructive

Global warming poses a threat to people all over the world. Climate change could jeopardize the access of millions of people to food and drinking water. Without these resources, the most basic human right, the right to live, cannot be guaranteed. This also shows clearly that climate change can be just as harmful and destructive as armed conflicts.

A scientific basis for the discussion of the meaning of climate change for security policy is provided by the report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) on “Climate Change as a Security Risk” (2007). The report states that the effects of climate change – especially heat waves, drought, forest fires, scarcity of drinking water, soil degradation, food shortages, migration, and the flooding of coastal regions – make existing conflicts unpredictable and exacerbate disagreements, especially in fragile regions of the world. Politicians are encouraged to contribute to the stability of long-term crisis prevention and peaceful global development by pursuing forward-looking climate and environmental policies.

A task for the United Nations

For many low-lying island countries, climate change has become an existential ultimatum. If global warming cannot be effectively limited, whole countries and cultures will disappear. Populations must be resettled; the international community will be confronted with fundamental questions that have never been asked before. Where does a nation go when its territory becomes uninhabitable? How does it get there? What happens to its material possessions and cultural heritage? How can such a country persist as a subject of international law?

Such questions can only be answered by the United Nations. For that reason, on 20 July, Germany, as acting UN Security Council president, had the Council deal with the security policy consequences of climate change. During the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the vital role that the Security Council could play on this issue. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP, Achim Steiner, presented the urgency of the situation. He said that climate change had to finally be conceived of as a geopolitical challenge.

After a very lively debate, the members of the Security Council agreed on a joint document recognizing that climate change can make existing security risks worse. It was requested that the UN Secretary-General take climate change into account when necessary in his reports to the Security Council.

This successful treatment of the issue in the Security Council is a success for German foreign policy and at the same time it provides an opportunity to introduce new political impetus to negotiations on the climate.

Climate and Security

Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle praises the debate in the UN Security Council on the topic of climate and security

Last updated 16.08.2011

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