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Russia blocks U.N. move to treat climate change as a global security threat

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, upper left, raises his hand to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution linking climate change to international peace and security. (Loey Felipe/U.N./AP)

Russia has vetoed the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that for the first time would have treated climate change as a threat to peace, even as many Western powers increasingly take climate risk into account as part of their security strategies.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Ireland and Niger, would have required the top U.N. body to consider climate change as a possible cause of conflicts, and to look for ways to address the risks and head off potential clashes.

Twelve of the Security Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution Monday. India voted against it, alongside Russia, while China abstained. Russia is one of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members with the power to block resolutions.

Moscow generally opposes any expansion of the Security Council’s agenda, experts say, and has regularly used its veto to block Western powers from intervening in conflicts, including in Syria. It argued that the resolution, if adopted, would politicize a “scientific and economic issue.”

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“Positioning climate change as a threat to international security diverts the attention of the council from genuine, deep-rooted reasons of conflict in the countries on the council’s agenda,” said Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that Russia vetoed the U.N. resolution on climate change because it considered it “unacceptable” for nations that had harmed the climate through swift industrial development to impose restrictions on other countries. “The climate agenda cannot be a factor containing or limiting countries’ right to development,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The latest proposal was a version of a similar resolution drafted in 2020 by Germany, and backers said it was “long overdue.” (German media reported last year that the effort had been blocked by the United States, then under the Donald Trump administration.) The Security Council already has several informal groups where members meet to discuss climate-related security risks.

“We know very well that this resolution would have been a historic and an important — not to mention necessary — move for the council at a critical point in time,” Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason told reporters after the vote.

Despite the setback, experts say the case for linking climate change to security issues is likely to grow stronger.

“The European Union, the Germans, the French, the U.K., the United States under Biden, many countries around the world, and many militaries have now embedded climate and security as a core pillar of their engagement and their planning and their force structure decisions,” said Robert Glasser, an expert in climate and security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

“The vote certainly underlined the fact that the holdouts are in the minority,” wrote Florian Krampe, a climate expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and Cedric de Coning, a professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Monday. “But one fear is that the experience will have hardened their position.”

The effects of climate change are already thought to be leading to increased competition for scarce water resources in places such as Africa. And although world leaders agreed to speed up action at a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in November, the agreement fell short of the transformative breakthroughs scientists say need to happen to avoid the most dire effects of global warming.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the Scotland climate summit in person. Moscow, one of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas, has long faced criticism for setting weak climate targets and not doing more to curb the carbon footprint of Russia’s massive fossil fuel industry.

“There are a lot of historical examples, including the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war, where climate is a contributing factor,” said ASPI’s Glasser, who was previously the U.N. Secretary General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction. “It’s a bit like climate action. The more disasters, large-scale, unprecedented events we start seeing, the more the demand for political changes.”

Robyn Dixon contributed to this report.

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