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The Politicisation of Climate Change and the Genesis of Conflict

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

A draft resolution was introduced in the Security Council by Niger and Ireland which aimed to establish a link between conflicts induced by deteriorating climate. The draft resolution was rejected as Russia, a permanent member of the security council vetoed it. The resolution was also rejected by India while China abstained from voting. The house was divided over using the Security Council as a forum to discuss this issue even though the relationship between future conflicts and climate change is well recognised. This relationship is hypothesized by usually referring to the countries from West Africa to the Somali peninsula which already are marred with weak institutions and extremism. Terror groups like Boko Haram have been known to use this inherent weakness to recruit cadre from these countries thus making these emerging threats a challenge which cannot be overlooked.

Terror outfits like Book Haram and other forces with an interest in instability will ultimately be empowered by the politicisation of Climate Change

Climate change is considered a threat multiplier. It is linked to irregular weather patterns which could lead to droughts, desertification or floods. Such extreme weather is unsustainable for weak states by pushing more and more people below the poverty line. Competition for scarce resources in a predominantly agricultural economy has led many to find an alternative source of income with these terror groups.

According to President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger who is also the council President for December, the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel region of the African continent are already experiencing the adverse impact of climate change. The draft resolution from a country of the region highlights the need to incorporate mechanisms at the security council level to redress local conflicts by taking climate related security risks into account.

Food insecurity is an emerging threat in this region. The loss of income has been compensated by an increase in criminal activities and a flourishing smuggling industry. This has added to one of the ways the terror groups finance their activities. Ireland, which was the other co-sponsor of the draft resolution, sees climate change as a threat to the existing state system. The inability of states to protect its citizens from the adverse impact of climate change is seen to potentially alienate citizens from their state hence giving an opportunity to terror groups to exploit these grievances.

The UN's Security Council is not the place where usually climate change related issues are deliberated. UNFCCC, Conference of Parties (CoP), UN Environment Programme and few other forums have had mixed success in dealing with issues related to climate change and environment degradation. The Security Council or any of these organizations do not have the ability to enforce any resolution on the member states but the Security Council’s resolutions are considered legally binding. The Security Council has over the years become a forum to politicise regional issues. Both Russia and India are apprehensive of the role the Security Council could play and in turn prefer UNFCCC to play a more relevant role in climate related issues. The Security Council unlike other forums is not inclusive and does not move forward by creating consensus. India on behalf of the developing countries was against securitizing climate related issues at the level of the Security Council as it would have set a wrong precedent.

A wrongful politicization of environment issues in the Security Council by member states has already started to happen. Ukraine during the discussion on the draft resolution blamed Russia for the environmental damage to the ecosystem and the waterways of the Donbass region and the Crimean peninsula. Similarly, Iran blamed the United States for its failure to access financial assistance and technical know-how which would have helped it to tackle climate change. The misuse of the Security Council for the personal agenda of individual countries is not only making international institutions irrelevant but also denying a much needed meaningful engagement and cooperation of all the stakeholders on climate change.

States which are already weak and vulnerable are expected to reel most under the pressure of climate change. So the basic premise of the draft resolution can not be universally applied. The economic cost of not meeting the challenges of climate change is too high for the world economy. The security threat of climate change acting as a threat multiplier is very evident. It should be tackled by western powers by firstly fulfilling their commitment made in CoP16 Accord which required them to jointly provide $100 billion every year till 2020. Lastly, financial assistance and technical know-how should be given to those countries which are most vulnerable to climate change so that the damage to their economies can be off set.

The current pandemic gives us a possible glimpse of the future. The failure to mass produce vaccines by sharing its formula has only helped developed countries in their fight against the pandemic. The world cannot make the same mistakes while tackling the negative effects of climate change.

Divy Raghuvanshi is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Studies in Strategic Technologies , School of National Security Studies, Central University of Gujarat.


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