U.K.’s Johnson Chairs UN Meeting On Climate Security

On February 22nd, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, chaired a United Nations Security Council meeting on climate security. The purpose of the meeting was to determine “links between climate change and conflict and prevention measures.” According to Reuters, in 2011, the council adopted a statement expressing concern “that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.” The United Nations Security Council meeting, chaired by Johnson, addressed the climate change crisis and the steps needed to combat the crisis, as it is a current security threat to all nations and peoples.

Addressing the objectives of the UN meeting, Barbara Woodward, Britain’s UN Ambassador, said, “We want to look in particular at the threats that climate poses to conflict, to peace and security, the way in which droughts lead to famine, famine and floods can cause displacement, they can cause conflict very easily.” Adding, “we want to explore these sorts of linkages and look at ways of preventing risks to peace and security.”

According to BBC, last week’s meeting, chaired by Boris Johnson, was the first of its kind to be chaired by a British Prime Minister since 1992. During the meeting, Johnson reportedly stressed that climate change is a security threat. He said, that while some might argue that “all this green stuff from a bunch of tree-hugging tofu-munchers” is not a suitable subject for a UN meeting, he entirely disagrees, exclaiming that it is crucial that the security council takes appropriate security measures to “protect peace, security, and stability” worldwide.

Johnson added that the climate change crisis is one that impacts all nations and peoples and thus is a security threat for all: “whether you like it or not it is a matter of when, not if, your country and your people will have to deal with the security impact of climate change.” Additionally, the prime minister shared with the others at the meeting measures that the U.K. was taking to alleviate the climate crisis, namely, measures to reduce emissions. He also spoke on the importance of supporting vulnerable countries who may have less capabilities to combat the climate crisis on their own, stressing the need to support those nations to “adapt and build resilience.”

During the meeting, many speakers were given a chance to comment on the security crisis and discuss measures to alleviate it. Sir David Attenborough, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and Sudanese climate activist Nisreen Elsaim were among the speakers at the UN meeting. Like Johnson, Sir David Attenborough also stressed the sensitivity of the topic and its importance to worldwide security. According to BBC, at the meeting, he said, “if we continue on this path we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security- food production, access to water, ambient temperatures, and ocean food chains.” Adding that “the world is perilously close to tipping points that once past will send global temperatures spiraling catastrophically higher.” Nisreen Elsaim said at the meeting that Sudan is especially at risk due to “climate instability.” Stating that “drought and food security would lead to large-scale migration thus making conflict inevitable.”

Of note, according to BBC, Prime Minister Johnson was criticized by a Greenpeace spokesperson who accused him of “weapons-grade hypocrisy.” He explained that while Prime Minister Johnson is “demanding action while planning new coal mines at home and stripping funds for carbon-cutting energy efficiency measures.” Adding that “until the [U.K.] government starts taking the prime minister’s advice, his climate leadership will lack any credibility.” Lastly, the spokesperson emphasized that Prime Minister Johnson is further “risking his international reputation by permitting a new coal mine in Cumbria while urging other nations to relinquish coal.”

The climate change crisis is truly a security threat to all nations and it must be addressed and combatted as rapidly as possible. It is essential that nations continue to hold talks and actually enforce measures in their countries to alleviate the climate crisis. Countries with especially greater resources should implement these measures and support more vulnerable nations in adapting. Importantly, they must understand that resourceful nations may have more ease implementing such measures to alleviate the climate change crisis, however, more vulnerable nations may not be as capable to reduce emissions. The U.K. and other great powers should take the lead on implementing these measures that they publicly advocate for. Whether it be Prime Minister Johnson or others, they must practice in their home countries what they demand of other nations, especially more vulnerable nations.