The dangers that small islands and their populations face are no less serious than those faced by nations and peoples threatened by guns and bombs. The effects on our populations are as likely to cause massive dislocations of people as past and present wars. The impacts on social cohesion and identity are as likely to cause resentment, hatred and alienation as any current refugee crisis. Pacific peoples have inhabited their islands for thousands of years and have rich and vibrant cultures. We are likely to become the victims of a phenomenon to which we have contributed very little and which we can do very little to halt.
This powerful, moving speech was part of the statement delivered by Ambassador Robert Aisi (on behalf of the PSIDS) at the first ever United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate on the topic of energy, security and climate in 2007. Since then, there have been five open debates on the topic of climate and security at the Security Council. In recent years, these debates have gained traction, happening yearly since 2018, possibly linked to the formation of the UN Group of Friends on Climate and Security, which has strong PSIDS representation in its membership.
Today, the link between climate change and security may seem obvious but it has not always been the case at the UN. In the speech excerpt above, the links between security and climate change are strongly outlined for this reason. Fourteen years ago, in that forum, this was a novel and contentious idea. The fact that it is less so now, is in part, due to the PSIDS advocacy for the recognition of the link between climate change and security. This piece briefly explores early PSIDS advocacy on this issue, especially in relation to the adoption of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution ‘Climate change and its possible security implications’(A/RES/63/281).
Why climate and security?
Linking climate change and the issue of security is significant because this puts climate change into the purview of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the only principal organ of the UN that can make decisions that are binding on its members. It also helps push discussion of climate change into forums apart from the UNFCCC and serves to further spotlight the issue.
Dissatisfied with the lack of action on climate change, the PSIDS became active in pushing for the recognition of the linkages between climate change and security. In taking this path, the PSIDS were innovating to draw attention, and action, to their fight for survival.
It was not the easy path. They were told that it was a risk and that it would be better to find other avenues. A risk because there are many countries who are reluctant to involve the UNSC in the area of climate change, and who believe that the UNFCCC is the appropriate forum for these discussions.
Climate change and its possible security implications
The 2007 UNSC open debate had no outcome document that would lend weight to its discussions. The PSIDS were then determined to deliver a document that highlighted the linkages. Two years laters, on 3 June 2009, Ambassador Marlene Moses of Nauru introduced the first ever PSIDS led draft resolution, ‘Climate Change and its possible security implications’, to the UNGA. It was adopted without vote.
PSIDS diplomats interviewed five years after the passing of the resolution, highlighted its significance and the hard work it took to pass the resolution. It took a year to negotiate, there were many meetings and much lobbying. This hard work was recognised in the speeches leading up to the adoption of the resolution, the PSIDS were congratulated by many of their diplomatic peers for their achievement in seeing the resolution through.
What had started out as the draft resolution ‘Climate change and security’ (A/62/L.50) morphed into the draft resolution ‘Security and climate change’ (A/63/L.8), was revised into ‘Climate change and its possible security implications ‘(A/63/L.8/Rev.1) and then with an addendum became ‘Climate Change and its possible security implications’ (A/63/L.8/Rev.1/Add.1) before it was adopted at the UNGA, without vote. The resolution is not as strong as it could be, but by the time it was passed, there were more than 100 co-sponsors, showing significant support.
Apart from directly boosting successive climate diplomacy efforts, there was a further, more wide-reaching consequence. It can be argued that the victory of being able to get ‘Climate Change and its possible security implications’ passed, with as much support as it did, gave greater impetus to, as well as raised the profile of, PSIDS. A more active, prominent PSIDS, in turn, helped fuel the ‘new Pacific diplomacy’ that has seen much diplomatic gain for the Pacific Island Countries.
Fulori Manoa is a Teaching Assistant and scholar at the University of the South Pacific. She is primarily interested in Pacific diplomacy and online/mobile learning in the Pacific Island countries. This article has been written for the Road to COP26 series for the Griffith Climate Action Beacon.