The task facing the next United Nations Secretary-General will not be an easy one. The world seems to be teetering on the edge of multiple, interconnected crises including conflict in Syria, tensions around Ukraine, and disputes over water and land resource issues. All of this at a time when we are seeing the biggest movement of people since World War II.
In the public debates the candidates for the next UN Secretary-General have participated in, they’ve shown that they can list what will be in their in-tray, but few have acknowledged the common thread running through many of these crises and challenges: the impact of a changing climate. Any analysis that fails to acknowledge this as one of the key drivers to current and future global instability is a flawed one.
The evidence of this impact is becoming increasingly apparent. Whilst very few are saying that climate change is a direct cause of conflict, it is certainly increasing the likelihood. Last month research published by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found climate disasters increase the chance of armed conflict, particularly in ethnically-divided nations. Climate change is already contributing to social upheaval and even violent conflict by making bad situations worse. In 2015,the National Academy of Sciences linked a prolonged drought in Syria in 2011 to climate change, and suggested the drought may have contributed to the start of the conflict and subsequent migrant crisis: The 2006-2011 drought was particularly severe and led to widespread crop failures, which in turn forced people to move within Syria into cities in search of work, increasing the tension and chance of conflict in urban areas. As always, there will be alternative views and whilst other analysis suggests the link may not be so straightforward, the new additions have certainly added momentum to the debate.
Unlike her fellow candidates, Christiana Figueres — a Costa Rican diplomat and former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — not only recognises that climate change is increasingly one of the biggest threats that we face, she also understands that the security implications need to be addressed along with all the other threats to global stability and prosperity, rather than in isolation. She knows that without such an approach climate change promises to make many of our most complex crises — from migration to conflict, food shortages to terrorism — much harder to solve.