Climate scientist Schellnhuber to brief UN Security Council

02/15/2013 - As climate change starts being recognized as a security issue on the highest international levels, Pakistan and the United Kingdom have asked Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) to speak at an in-depth discussion event for the UN Security Council members. The meeting aims at addressing “potential threats posed by possible adverse effects of climate change to the maintenance of international peace and security”. It will take place on February 15th at the UN headquarters in New York City. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to attend.
Climate scientist Schellnhuber to brief UN Security Council
UN headquarters in New York. Photo: UN

“With unabated greenhouse-gas emissions, humankind would venture into an uncertain future that is much hotter than ever before in its history – so from a scientist’s perspective, climate change is a global risk multiplier,” says Schellnhuber, director of PIK and chair of the Scientific Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) for the German government. Many millions of people could be affected by severe climate change impacts. They range from sea-level rise that increases the frequency of severe coastal flooding, to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns that could trigger, e.g., monsoon failures.

“Most remarkably, Pakistan and the UK together have called this meeting – illustrating, by action, that climate change is an issue for both developing and industrialized countries,” Schellnhuber says.

Climate change impacts might trigger social tipping dynamics

If the international community allows global mean temperature to rise way beyond the 2-degree limit that it agreed upon, major environmental tipping points could be crossed. “The Earth system shows a nonlinear response to greenhouse-gas emissions, so elements like the Amazon rainforest could react drastically if some warming thresholds are passed. This in turn might result in tipping international relations from a situation in which an initial increase of cooperation in face of a crisis shifts into a fierce competition for scarce natural resources, like food,” argues Schellnhuber. “However, another kind of social tipping dynamics is imaginable as well – with states, and people, becoming aware of the dangers ahead, and starting the great transformation towards sustainability.” One small example for this might be the German Energiewende (a rapid decarbonization of the national energy system).

Schellnhuber is the only scientist invited to the meeting. The other eminent speakers are Tony DeBrum, Minister-in-assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands, Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, and Gyan Acharya, Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the least developed countries. Some of the issues to be debated are climate change impacts on food security, sustaining cooperative management of freshwater supply in the face of glacial melting and reduced runoff, and possible large-scale displacements of people across borders.

The informal meeting is being convened under the Security Council’s Arria formula which allows external experts to be invited to speak to the Council. It was first implemented in 1992 by Venezuela’s Ambassador Diego Arria and gained significant importance since then, allowing the Council members greater flexibility. The UN Security Council has twice before deliberated the issue of climate change, under the respective leaderships of the UK and Germany. The Arria formula meeting could help to firmly establish climate change as a security issue on the Council’s agenda.

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