Global warming is a threat to geopolitical stability, the United Nations Security Council recently declared. In a public statement, the UN drew a clear line in the sand regarding climate change’s negative impact on the world’s population and borders. The UN’s public acknowledgement of the veracity and severity of the issue comes after four years of debate within the institution.
The Council’s slow movement toward an official response to global warming was roundly criticized by Susan Rice, US representative to the UN. “We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened,” she said. “This Council is saying by its silence, in effect, tough luck.” She concluded, “this is more than disappointing, it’s pathetic, it’s short-sighted, and frankly it is a dereliction of duty.”
Moving forward, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “We must make no mistake.” He continued, “The facts are clear: climate change is real; it is accelerating in a dangerous manner; and it not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security.”
Secretary Ban warned that the mix of climate change with political instability was “an unholy brew which can create dangerous security vacuums.” He called on developed countries to lead the way in innovation and implementation of environmentally protective measures, in order to ensure future geopolitical stability.
Many UN officials echoed the Secretary’s concerns about the political impact of global warming, focusing in particular on the humanitarian and geopolitical results of environmental disasters.
“We are talking about major implications, not only in a territorial sense, but also from a geopolitical perspective,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Enviornment Program. Mr. Steiner spoke of the “tens of thousands of kilometers of coastline” which would be affected by an anticipated rise in sea level. With the advancing water level changing global topography, he said, “in a sense we will redraw the world’s map, not only in geographical terms but also in terms of exclusive economic zones and many other implications.”
Such implications could include famine, drought and flooding. All three possibilities pose major threats to developed and developing countries alike, but would have particularly severe consequences in the developing world. The climate change statement was issued after the UN declared a famine in the Horn of Africa due to the worst drought in decades. Recent flooding in Haiti, Pakistan, and Benin have stressed the humanitarian efforts of the UN refugee agency.
Secretary Ban called for international political action to mitigate the climate crisis. “If we do not address the fundamentals of climate change, we will have more floods, famines and other disasters,” he said. “And it is only in that broader framework of sustainable development that we can address climate change, international peace and security and the needs of all of our citizens.”