The Institutionalization of Climate Security

Activity: Participating in or organising event(s)Organising a conference, workshop, exhibition, performance, inquiry, course etc


World peace and international security are key areas of international law in which international organizations have always been present. Climate change, conversely, is an area of international law in which international organizations and the understanding of their law and their law-making capacity has up until recently barely made an appearance. There is no international organization dedicated to the environment and this field is instead characterized by so-called ‘informal’ institutions or frameworks, such as Conferences of the Parties, public-private partnerships, and joint subsidiary organs. The Global Environmental Facility, for instance, is one such complex and unique governance body that went through several institutional transformations. Originally created as a pilot of the World Bank, it later involved the UNEP and the UNDP, and it is today entangled with multilateral environmental agreements, to which it serves as a public-private body for financing their activities.

As a result, traditional organizations address climate change filtered by their mandates, primarily through the lens of ‘security’. For instance, in a recent speech, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that ‘climate change makes the world more dangerous’ and ‘makes it harder for our military forces to keep our people safe’. He further added that ‘we all have a responsibility to do more to combat climate change’, and NATO’s interest derives from ‘practical military reasons. Not just to save the environment, but to save lives’. However, in terms of concrete contributions to cut carbon emissions, he claimed that ‘NATO is setting an example. This headquarters, here in Brussels, is a green building. Using geothermal power for heat. And rainwater collection for building maintenance’ which has little to do with NATO missions and the destructive environmental impact of conflicts. Similarly, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, linked climate change and security without mentioning the role played by the UN itself. Yet, we also see a backlash against this in the likes of the UN Security Council where Russia vetoed a resolution that would link climate change to international peace and security, suggesting that it would be a ‘disastrous politicization of the climate agenda and lead us away from unified and genuinely global cooperation.’

The primacy of the framing between security and climate change raises a number of possible questions: How do international organizations expand their competences to include climate security? Should they expand their competences and how do we guard against ‘greenwashing’? Is there a risk that climate change becomes another justification for intervention, humanitarian or otherwise? How are international organizations competing against each other to fill new spaces of global governance? How do or should these organizations adapt to new challenges? Is climate security an opportunity or a threat to international organizations? And are international organizations and their framing of climate change as an issue of securitisation a threat to effectively combating climate change? Are there or should there be international obligations obliging international organizations to cut emissions in their activities related to climate security? What might these obligations look like? Is there a role for accountability mechanisms and international responsibility? Is enough research being undertaken to understand the ‘informal’ organizations governing climate security? What is the legal status of informal institutional bodies active in climate security? How do international organizations interact with private actors for the purposes of climate security?
PeriodMar 2022
Event typeWorkshop