Although claims about climate/conflict links remain contested, concerns that climate change will affect peace and security have gained traction in academic, activist, and policy circles. One set of pressures for responsive action has centered on the UN Security Council, which has held several often-contentious debates on the topic. Whether the Council should address climate change is a highly politicized question, tied to controversies about the Council’s mandate, membership reform, and the appropriate division of labor in the UN system. Lost in this political debate has been a more fundamental question—what exactly could the Council do? We examine six specific proposals for Council action culled from the academic and policy literature and the public positions of member states. These include incorporating climate risks into peacekeeping operations, developing an early-warning system, managing the threat to small-island states, engaging in preventive diplomacy, addressing climate refugees, and embracing a climate-related analogy to the norm of a responsibility to protect. For each proposal, our analysis—which is based on interviews conducted at the UN, archival research, and case histories of past instances of adapting the Council’s focus to new challenges—examines what it would mean and require for the Council to act. We also identify a series of measures that constitute a “pragmatic transformative” agenda. These steps recognize the poor fit between the climate challenge and the Council as it is currently constituted, but also the potential to use climate as part of a larger transformation toward the better Council the world needs.

You do not currently have access to this content.