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The UN Security Council held an open debate on climate and security on 24.07.2020. The debate has raised crucial points around action on climate-related security impacts in the body. Janani Vivekananda, Senior Advisor at adelphi, offers a short analysis on some of the debate’s key points.

"In the 24th of July open debate on climate and security, Germany proposed three steps to the UN Security Council that could be taken right away. The first step was around better information on climate-related security risks, including Early Warning indicators, better training and expertise within UN missions and in mediation teams, and this would include the new Global Climate Security Risk and Foresight Assessment, which could be a reference point for the UN Security Council, but also a tool to strengthen UN efforts on mediation and preventative diplomacy as a whole.

The second step was the appointment by the Secretary-General of a Special Representative on Climate and Security to ensure that climate change is placed where it belongs: at the heart of the Council’s work. And the third step was the establishment of an informal expert group on climate and security to ensure the inclusion of climate security in all relevant mandates and conflict prevention strategies.

Now, this is just a debate, so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of it, but were they all to get a green light – and I sincerely hope they do, I’d raise three corresponding points: The first is around better information. We certainly need to ensure that we do not fall into the age-old rut between Early Warning, which is often excellent, of high quality and timely, and Early Action, which lags far behind, despite even the loudest of warning bells.

When there is no incentive structure for preventative responses, a lack of clear and fast financing to mobilise action, and a lack of ideas on what to actually do with Early Warning messages, there is a real risk that better information may not be translated into better responses. So training, expertise and tools are important. So too are fast and flexible financing structures and context-specific localised responses.

On the second point, a Special Representative on Climate and Security has been on the wish list for years now. An SRSG is most effective when he or she has a clear mandate and objective. Now, there is a clear need for high level leadership on this issue. The new hub for climate security within the UN System could really benefit from the strategic guidance and steering of an SRSG on this issue.

And the third point: the Informal Expert Group on Climate Security. This sounds great! The inclusion of climate security into mandates and strategies is important to ensure that these principles are operationalised. But like the first point, this also needs a shift in understanding and incentives to ensure that these are not just words or check-lists to tick off on a piece of paper. The new SRSG could play an important role here in helping to shift understanding, help shift hearts and minds, incentives and structures to facilitate actual, real world change."