Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Keele University PHD researcher Ashley Murphy is disappointed that the United Nations is not using its authoritarian might to coerce nations into addressing climate change – though he thinks the UN is moving in the right direction.
Climate change is a security threat – so where is the UN Security Council?
May 16, 2018 12.39am AEST
PhD Researcher, Keele University
Climate change is one of the great security challenges of the 21st century. As the world warms, conflicts over water, food or energy will become more common and many people will be forced from their homes. Scientists, think-tanks, NGOs, militaries and even the White House (albeit under President Obama) all agree that climate change threatens human safety and well-being. Yet the organisation charged with global security has remained relatively silent.
The UN Security Council, responsible for maintaining international peace and security, is comprised of 15 countries. Five seats are reserved for permanent members with veto powers (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) while the other ten members are elected to represent their region (“Africa”, “Asia-Pacific” etc) for two year terms.
The fact the Security Council has helped combat these varied and largely unrelated challenges shows its potential to do good. Yet these interventions also pose the critical question of why it has yet to engage climate change in any meaningful way. Article 41 sanctions would be available to the council in the event of states not meeting their Paris Agreement obligations. Economic sanctions could also be placed upon corporations, that currently operate with relatively little international scrutiny. What the council brings is an ability to coerce – something that is currently lacking throughout international climate law.
From one perspective, countries like New Zealand and Germany view climate change as a security issue of immense proportions and worthy of the council’s attention. On the other hand, states such as China and South Africa argue that if the council engages with climate change it will undermine the sovereignty of states, fracturing the international system.
These positions are entrenched, reflecting vastly opposing ideologies in relation to both climate change and international relations, thus precluding any meaningful intervention. Yet this does not necessarily mean that the Security Council is frozen indefinitely.
So where are we? The Security Council has access to the tools the world so desperately needs to enforce state and private action on climate change, and although it is taking its time there is some advancement. That does not mean climate change is about to be recognised as a security concern in its own right, but each step taken is valuable and the council is certainly on the right path to identifying climate change as the security threat it so clearly is.
The Article 41 under which Ashley believes the Security Council would be empowered to enforce the Paris Agreement is a reference to the United Nations charter.
“The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”
Read more: http://legal.un.org/repertory/art41.shtml
I suspect we shall see more of young Ashley in the near future. With his PHD in international law, and his utter disdain for the sovereignty of nation states when they inconvenience his agenda, Ashley has the makings of a senior United Nations official.