The Slovenia Times

Climate and security - now on every Foreign Minister's to-do list

Bled Strategic Forum
Ann Linde, Sweden's former foreign minister. Photo: Ann Linde's Facebook profile
Ann Linde, Sweden's former minister of foreign affairs, discusses the links between climate change, environmental degradation and security in an op-ed for Bled Strategic Times ahead of the Bled Strategic Forum, offering the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine as a case in point.

The picture appeared in newspapers all over the world at the end of June. One of the great political leaders of our time, President Zelensky of Ukraine, and the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg together with a small group of international politicians. Why was she in Kiev with them?

The reason is that President Zelensky is not only a president who will forever be remembered for the courageous way he led his country during the devastating, illegal, terrible war that Russia started in February 2022, but he is also a president who realises how the war is destroying the environment and the long term-consequences for his country. And he wants to do something about it.

At the G20 meeting held in Indonesia in November last year, Zelensky reiterated Ukraine's formula for peace that he had presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2022. And that is not only what is needed to win the war on the battleground, it is also a list of all the work that will need to be done to restore Ukraine.

Point 8 on the list is about ecocide, the need to immediately protect the environment. He points out some of the devastating effects of the war: "Millions of hectares of forest were burned by shelling. Almost two hundred thousand hectares of our land are contaminated with unexploded mines and shells. Dozens of coal mines are flooded, including the mine in which an underground nuclear test explosion was carried out in 1979... Thousands of hectares of soil are contaminated with harmful substances - most of them are fertile soils. Were fertile soils".

It is for this reason that Zelensky is forming an International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War. The group should assess the consequences of war for the environment - both today and in the future; to develop recommendations for punishing the aggressor state for environmental crimes. Greta Thunberg is a member of that group and offered strong remarks concerning Russia's deliberate environmental warfare in Ukraine.

The co-chairs of the group are Andrij Yermak, Head of the Office of the President, and my predecessor as the foreign minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström. She was also the European Commissioner for the environment.

As Chairperson of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2021, it became evident to me while visiting OSCE member states that the risks of geopolitical competition over scarce resources are imminent in many places and that climate change indeed holds clear security implications on the ground.

The current and future consequences of climate change and the rapid loss of biological diversity mean there is no doubt that we have entered unknown territory. No region and no human being will be left untouched. We must base our policies on top-notch research and analysis.

At this very moment, Russia's aggression against its peaceful neighbour is contributing to a severe food crisis around the world. We should remember that rising food prices cause tension no matter whether they are caused by a war or climate change. We saw this already ahead of the Arab Spring.

The links between climate change, environmental degradation and security are increasingly recognised by the vast majority of countries. Such recognition is also growing stronger within regional organisations, and I am really proud that Sweden together with partners was able to give this agenda a strong push during our time in both the UN and the OSCE.

In the Security Council, where Sweden held a non-permanent seat between 2017 and 2018, we initiated the UN Climate Security Mechanism, an example of how Sweden and its partners are trying to take a holistic approach and combine the best forces of the UN on climate change, the environment, development, and peace and security. The UNEP, UNDP and the UN Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs are pooling their knowledge and providing climate security advisors in the field. This is in order to enhance understanding and the action in the most exposed and vulnerable countries of the joint challenge of climate change and security.

Under Swedish chairpersonship, the Ministerial Council Decision in December 2021 on climate and security was ground-breaking as these links were clearly recognised for the first time and gave the OSCE a mandate to work with the issue.

The OSCE held a high-level conference on climate and security in July, and it is important to see how the OSCE along with its instruments for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation can enhance its role also in tackling climate-related risks.

Addressing the climate and security nexus is about analysis, action and cooperation:

So, what should we do next?

We must improve our capacity to assess the role of climate change and environmental degradation as a risk multiplier and, at times, as an opportunity for risk-reducing cooperation.

• We must move from analysis to action - on both the national and international levels
• There must be clear and outspoken political leadership
• Inter-organisational cooperation must be promoted, not least between the OSCE, the EU, and the United Nations
• There must be accountability for countries and actors engaging in environmental warfare
• Governments should appoint Ambassadors for Climate and Security.

Climate and security entails an ever more salient topic on the political agenda. Let us hope that this will become as common as more traditional topics at all future meetings of Foreign Ministers.

This article was first published in Bled Strategic Times - the official gazette of the Bled Strategic Forum. The Bled Strategic Times offers an additional platform alongside the Bled Strategic Forum to voice the positions on diverse topics to political leaders, thinkers, business representatives and academics. This year's Bled Strategic Times can be read in full here.


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