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Russia blocks UN Move to treat climate as security threat

Russia’s derailment of the measure underscored the challenges faced by the United Nations in uniting the global community to combat climate change, which Secretary-General António Guterres and others have called an existential threat.

By: New York Times |
December 14, 2021 11:43:04 am
FILE -- The Security Council room in the United Nations building in New York, Sept. 1, 2015. Russia on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, blocked a United Nations Security Council draft resolution, under negotiation for many months, that for the first time would have defined climate change as a threat to peace. (Piotr Redlinski/The New York Times)

Written by Rick Gladstone

Russia on Monday blocked a United Nations Security Council draft resolution, under negotiation for many months, that for the first time would have defined climate change as a threat to peace.

The resolution, which enjoyed wide-ranging support, would have significantly expanded the criteria used by the most powerful U.N. agency to justify intervening in armed conflicts around the world.

Russia’s derailment of the measure underscored the challenges faced by the United Nations in uniting the global community to combat climate change, which Secretary-General António Guterres and others have called an existential threat.

Despite progress made to counter greenhouse gas emissions with an agreement reached at the U.N.-sponsored climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last month, that accord fell far short of what many scientists say will be required to curb rising temperatures and disastrous changes in weather patterns from a warming planet. Among other weaknesses, the agreement left unclear how the most vulnerable nations will be able to afford the enormous investments needed to adapt.

The possible role of climate change in armed conflicts has long been a subject of discussion at the United Nations and elsewhere. Droughts and desertification aggravated by climate change in Mali, Niger and other parts of Africa, for example, are thought to be integral to the competition for water, food, farmland and pasture land that can lead to violence and instability.

The Security Council draft resolution, co-sponsored by Ireland and Niger, the council’s current president, was a version of what was initially proposed in 2020 by Germany but never put to a vote.

The Ireland-Niger draft would have obliged the 15-member body to include climate change as a factor regarding “any root causes of conflict or risk multipliers.” It also would have asked the secretary-general to make regular reports on how to address the risks from climate change in preventing conflicts.

The vote on the resolution in the 15-member council was 12 in favor, with Russia and India opposed and China abstaining. Because Russia is one of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members, its negative vote blocked passage.

Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, said it regarded the resolution as a pretext by wealthy Western powers to justify meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. “Positioning climate change as a threat to international security diverts the attention of the council from genuine, deep-rooted reasons of conflict in the countries on the council’s agenda,” Nebenzia said.

Reinforcing his statement on its website, Russia’s U.N. Mission criticized the resolution as a “proposal to establish this automatic link while neglecting all other aspects of situations in countries in conflict or countries lagging behind in their socio-economic development.”

Both Nebenzia and India’s ambassador, T.S. Tirumurti, said any climate issues were best left to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body responsible for dealing with the global threat posed by warming temperatures.

Tirumurti asserted that India was “second to none when it comes to climate action and climate justice, but that the Security Council is not the place to discuss either issue.”

Russia’s veto was the first on any resolution put to a vote this year in the council, the only body in the United Nations with the power to impose sanctions and order the use of armed force when deemed necessary.

Russia has been the most prolific user of its Security Council veto in recent years to block actions it perceives to be manipulative by Western powers to intervene in the internal disputes of other countries. The change began after 2011, when Russia abstained in a Security Council vote on a resolution that authorized force in the Libyan conflict, which Russia later said was grossly abused by the West.

U.N. diplomats said at least 113 of the global body’s 193 members had supported the resolution, putting Russia in the position of having blocked what would have been a relatively popular decision.

The U.S. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assailing Russia’s veto, said it had “stopped the world’s most important body for maintaining international peace and security from taking a small, practical and necessary step to combat the impacts of climate change.”

Ireland’s ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, told reporters after the vote that both Ireland and Niger were “extremely disappointed.”

“We know very well that this resolution would have been a historic and an important — not to mention necessary — move for the council at a critical point in time,” she said.

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