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Climate Change and International Peace and Security: Time for a ‘Green’ Security Council?

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The United Nations Security Council is responsible under article 39 UN Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security, but many of the effects of climate change are currently experienced at the local or domestic level. Climate change-induced migration, for instance, currently occurs more often within States than between different States and armed conflicts over scarcer-growing natural resources (such as drinking-water) are fought more often between competing groups within one State than between different States. There is, thus, a mismatch between the Council’s classical competence under the Charter and the form the problem of climate change currently takes. Nevertheless, this article suggests four possible ways to justify the Council’s competence for the problem of climate change: first, an “individual case”-based approach in which the Council only becomes competent when there is an evident international dimension to a specific climate change-induced situation, not for climate change in general; second, an “imminent threat”-based approach that emphasizes that domestic tensions caused by climate change are particularly sensitive and can abruptly and at any time turn into threats to international peace and security; third, a “human rights”-based approach underlined by the position that the negative effects of climate change hinder the realization of human rights which in turn constitutes an international concern; and fourth, a “cause and solution”-based approach which acknowledges that the effects of climate change are currently largely local or domestic, while recognizing that both the cause (an international climate change “prisoner’s dilemma”) and the only possible solution (an agreement between States based on cooperation, trust and reciprocity) are inevitably “international” in nature.

Prof. Dr. Pierre Thielbörger, M.PP. (Harvard) is Professor of German Public Law and International Law, including the Law of Peace and Armed Conflict, at the law faculty of Ruhr-University Bochum. He is also Managing Director of the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at Ruhr-University Bochum. He is thankful to his assistants Tobias Ackermann and Theresa Stollmann for the help with editing and research.

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    The choice of these two cases is in some ways necessarily arbitrary. One could also think of other examples that have a more “international” dimension. However, it is undeniable that the two chosen examples are at least amongst the most severe effects of climate change. This way, the examples chosen enable us to conclude that, as I will show, some of the most important effects of climate occur more on the national or local rather than on the international level.

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  75. 75.

    See, for example, the statements of H. Wieczorek-Zeul (Germany) and M. Beckett (United Kingdom), in: Security Council, Press Release: Security Council Holds First Ever Debate on Impact of Climate Change on Peace, Security, Hearing over 50 Speakers, UN Doc. SC/9000 (2007); as well as those of P. Wittig (Germany) and M. L. Grant (United Kingdom), in: Security Council, Press Release: Security Council, in statement, Says ‘Contextual Information’ on Possible Security Implications of Climate Change Important When Climate Impacts Drive Conflict, UN Doc. SC/10332 (2011).

  76. 76.

    See statements of V. Churkin (Russian Federation) and F. Amil (Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), in: Security Council, Press Release: Security Council Holds First Ever Debate on Impact of Climate Change on Peace, Security, Hearing over 50 Speakers, supra note 75; as well as those of V. Churkin (Russian Federation) and M. L. R. Viotti (Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), in: Security Council, Press Release: Security Council, in statement, Says ‘Contextual Information’ on Possible Security Implications of Climate Change Important When Climate Impacts Drive Conflict, supra note 75.

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Thielbörger, P. (2016). Climate Change and International Peace and Security: Time for a ‘Green’ Security Council?. In: Heintze, HJ., Thielbörger, P. (eds) From Cold War to Cyber War. Springer, Cham.

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