Climate change impacts international security


On Monday, December 13 the Sciences Po American Foundation invited alumnus Amb. Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo and Alexandra Novosseloff to a Sciences Po Alumni Webinar titled: “World & Security: the role of the UN Security Council.” Gomez-Robledo is the Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, and Dr. Alexandra Novosseloff is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the International Peace Institute in New York and author of Le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies, entre impuissance et toute puissance (2021, CNRS éditions). The ambassador, a member of the Mexican Foreign Service for over three decades, brought an insider’s perspective to understanding the role of the Council, while Dr. Novosseloff mobilized her expertise on the UN Security Council to guide and contextualize the discussion. The two exchanged views following Mexico’s November presidency of the Security Council.

The discussion began with an overview of the UN Security Council and its enduring importance as the highest decision-making body in international security. In addition to the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK, US) the Security Council includes ten non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term, whose significance and influence Novosseloff insisted should not be overlooked. Gomez-Robledo provided more insight on the balance of the Council, “You need nine to make a decision, that is the basic rule. No matter the important role of the P5 if they wish to achieve anything they need support from at least four more elected members.”

The conversation then turned to Mexico’s experience on the Council historically. Gomez-Robledo expanded on the transformations in the Security Council that informed Mexico’s move towards a more positive view of its role after decades long absence. He noted that the end of the Cold War brought an accompanying expansion of possibilities for the Council to discharge its duties and comply with its mandate. Gomez-Robledo noticed that the Council accepted that disruptions to peace were not exclusively the result of interstate conflict but could arise from internal strife within a state, and that “effectively reshaped the very notion of what constitutes a threat to peace and security.” That led the Council to include in its agenda issues such as the protection of civilians or the monitoring of human rights. Novosseloff added, “The Council, despite all the criticism, has shown it can adapt to the evolution of the nature of threats to international peace and security and to this day it adapted by debating of transnational threats such as health and climate change.”

Novosseloff noted that Mexico’s recent November presidency was characterized by the theme of addressing emerging threats to peace and security, prompting a discussion of Mexico’s priorities during its two-year mandate. The discussion focused on three principal issues Mexico brought to the attention of the Security Council while it held the presidency: how the principal bodies of the UN may better discharge their duties in the prevention of conflicts, fighting the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons, and the connections between inequalities, exclusion, lack of rule of law and conflict. 

A participant question prompted a further elucidation of the impact of elected members on the Council. The ambassador insisted on their influence, “It’s important to say form the outset that all of the progress that has been made in the methods of work is also the result of the push by the elected members.” He mentioned the existence of the “Working Methods Handbook” that has been compiled on a regular basis since 1996 as a result of pressure from elected members, and emphasized its contributions to the transparency, efficiency and inclusion of other voices in the Council. Arria Formulas, meetings with representatives of the civil society to discuss a topic not on the agenda of the Council but relevant to its mandate, were put forward since the end of 1990s as another lasting legacy of non-permanent members. Novosseloff concurred that initiatives from non-permanent members can become standardized procedures of the Council. 

The morning’s proposed resolution on the relation between climate change and international security was the next subject of discussion. The resolution failed after a veto from Russia, the abstention of China and a negative vote from India. Gomez-Robledo noted the vote reflected an acknowledgement of the impact of climate change on international security with 12 votes in favor in the Security Council and a co-sponsorship of 113 member states. Novosseloff contextualized the vote, “Russia and China have been opposing for quite some time now the expansion of the notion of a threat to security and of the Council’s agenda accordingly.” The ambassador in turn expressed his view that the resolution’s failure reflected a more profound and troubling shift in the view of the UN by a faction that desires to limit the participation of multi-stakeholders, such as NGOs. He maintains that the UN could not discharge its duties were it not for the support and participation of such actors citing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as an example. 

Attention shifted to the Council’s activity outside of the council chamber. Both Novosseloff and Gomez-Robledo insisted on the point that much of the work occurs behind closed doors. The ambassador also mentioned the practice of the visits of the Council on the ground, which provide its members with a precise sense of the ongoing challenges and various perspectives in a conflict. Gomez-Robledo also insisted, “the Council makes a tangible contribution to the maintenance of peace by just deploying peace missions on the ground.” Each mission/operation has its own individual mandate and acts as small steps towards peace and to begin to rebuild the social fabric.

Final remarks addressed Mexico’s upcoming year on the Council. Among the priorities, Gomez-Robledo named the theme of women, peace, and security. An additional priority discussed was to promote the rule of law on both the national and international levels, including the necessary centrality of international law in justifying all Security Council decisions. An Arria Formula was convened in February about abuses of the invocation of Article 51 (right to self-defense) of the UN Charter and its implications as an exception to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations. 

Overall, Gomez-Robledo and Novosseloff discussed both the role of permanent and elected members as well as the Security Council at large. Discussions of the current iteration of the Council and Mexico’s recent presidency illuminated the different channels through which the Council operates. The exchange imparted the centrality of the thematic agenda of the UN Security Council, and its role in shaping the perception of security as something that is continually evolving in the face of new threats like the global pandemic and ongoing climate crisis. 

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