Russia on Monday vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would have ranked climate change as a threat to international peace and security, in a setback to efforts to keep global warming in check.
Led by Niger and Ireland, a proposal backed by the UAE and 112 other UN members would have described climate change as a trigger for wars and pushed the issue higher up the council’s agenda.
A dozen members of the 15-nation council voted for the document, but India and Russia voted against and China abstained. Moscow, a permanent council member, can veto actions in the chamber.
Ireland’s UN ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason lamented that the council had failed to recognise the “reality of the world that we are living in and that climate change is increasing insecurity and instability”.
“We have missed the opportunity of action, and we look away from the realities of the world that we are living in,” she told reporters.
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Russia had "let the world down" in its veto.
The draft document had called for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to push climate-related security risks up the council’s agenda and report to members about how changing weather patterns can drive tensions in the world’s hotspots.
The council should “pay due regard to any root causes of conflict or risk multipliers”, the document said.
Previous council resolutions have described climate change as threatening parts of Africa and the Middle East, but the draft would have been the first bespoke council resolution on climate-related security threats.
Russian and Indian envoys said the issue should stay within the UN’s tailor-made climate change units and warned against stirring up tensions that were on display at last month’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the resolution would have politicised the already-tense climate debate and given a green light for UN interventions in almost any part of the world.
This would divert the “attention of the council from genuine, deep-rooted reasons of conflict in the countries on the council's agenda,” said Mr Nebenzia.
The UN says armed extremist groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Shabab thrive in communities stricken by drought and other harsh climatic conditions, where joblessness and despair leave people vulnerable to hardline messages.
ISIS extremists exploited grievances over water shortages and took control over water supplies to impose the group’s views on communities across Iraq and Syria, according to a report from Mr Guterres.
At a debate on Friday, Mohamed Issa Abushahab, the UAE’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, urged council members to take the nexus between climate change and terrorism and extremism more seriously.
“Even if indirect, there is a connection between climate impacts from migration to unemployment, and the feelings of helplessness, resentment, and loss of faith in governance systems that contribute to terrorist recruitment,” he said.