For a small island state like Tuvalu, climate change is an enormous security issue and they have told the UN Security Council as much, said Jon Barnett, professor of resource management and geography at the University of Melbourne, in an interview with ECSP. But, despite debate in 2007 and 2011, the Council has been unable to reach agreement on whether climate change is an international security issue or not.
“Eighty centimeters of sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and the warming of oceans is certainly a considerable threat to [Tuvalu’s] territorial integrity and would, within 50 or 60 years, significantly undermine…their ability to sustain the population of that country,” Barnett said.
But other countries are less willing to see climate change framed as a security issue because they believe there are higher order security issues to be worried about, he said. In addition, “they don’t necessarily believe that mobilizing the institutions of the Security Council is going to get an appropriate response to climate change.”
“There’s a lot of truth in the different arguments of different countries,” said Barnett. But “I think it is symbolically very important that the UN Security Council does recognize climate change as a security issue because it is for many countries in the UN system.”
“The question then becomes what are the practical applications of the Security Council recognizing climate change as a security issue?” Barnett said. “You have to ask if an additional workload into the Security Council is going to come at cost to the existing workload – weapons of mass destruction, keeping a watching eye on civil conflicts and issues of genocide…it would be a pity if adding climate change into the work of the Security Council would undermine its effectiveness on those other very important issues.”
One solution, said Barnett, would be to create an institution that is appended to the Security Council or General Assembly that has responsibility for strategic thinking about climate change and security issues around the world and informs the General Assembly and the Security Council about ongoing trends and thinking. This proposal would provide support for those member states that are facing climate-related security issues while freeing the Security Council to focus on other things for the time being.