In India’s Negative Vote in UNSC, a Long-Standing Advocacy Against Overlapping Mandates

On Monday, India voted against the draft resolution on climate change, the first time it has done so in the UNSC.

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New Delhi: Casting its first negative vote in its eighth term, India joined Russia in opposing a draft resolution on climate change in the UN Security Council (UNSC), describing it as an effort of the developed world to “divert” attention from their failure to deliver on commitments on climate justice at the UN’s environmental body.

The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 113 countries, the second-highest number in UNSC’s history.

According to the text drawn up by Ireland and Council President Niger, the draft resolution stated that climate change could pose a “key risk to global peace, security, and stability” by “exacerbating, prolonging, or contributing to the risk of future conflicts and instability”.

Calling for a “comprehensive, whole of UN approach”, the draft resolution called on the UN secretary-general to “integrate climate-related security risk as a central component into comprehensive conflict-prevention strategies”. It also said UN peacekeepers should have “appropriate training within existing resources on climate-related security risks” so that climate security should be part of the mandate of UN missions.

Since joining the Security Council as a non-permanent member in January 2021, India has abstained from two resolutions related to South Sudan and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the abstention on extending South Sudan sanctions regime went against the majority, India and 12 other non-permanent members abstained on a resolution on curbing powers of the Bosnia and Herzegovina High Representative.

On Monday, India voted against the draft resolution tabled at the UNSC for the first time in its current term.

“This draft resolution is a step backward from our collective resolve to combat climate change. It seeks to hand over that responsibility to a body which neither works through consensus nor is reflective of the interests of the developing countries. India had no option but to vote against,” said the permanent representative to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, in his explanation for India’s vote.

The rarity of this move on India’s part is underscored by the fact that India has never voted against a resolution that had obtained the required majority in the UNSC. However, during the last seven terms, India abstained 13 times, analysis of official UN records shows.

However, India’s vote was not a surprise as it has been an ardent and long-standing advocate of not extending the UN organs’ mandate into areas that were already under the gambit of other multilateral fora. For example, India has argued that its opposition to the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty was due to usurpation of the role of the Conference of Disarmament.

Under the UN Charter, the Security Council’s primary responsibility is “maintenance of international peace and security” – a phrase whose definition has sought to be broadened over the decades.

The Council held the first focussed discussion on climate change in 2007. Four years later, the UNSC issued a presidential statement which expressed concern that “possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security”.

The UN Security Council Chamber. Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

Since 2018, the UNSC has held seven thematic debates on climate change and security, with the last one on December 9. At all these debates, India had asserted that the Council is not the right platform to discuss climate issues.

Last year, Germany, as Council president in July, had circulated a text for the UNSC’s first-ever resolution on climate change and security. However, it was never tabled due to hostile responses from permanent members China, Russia and the US.

According to independent research group Security Council Report, the most vigorous opposition against Germany’s draft resolution had been from the US, which had taken a more sceptical view on climate change advocacy under the Donald Trump administration.

After the Joe Biden presidency was inaugurated in January, the US immediately changed its stance and indicated that it would “work closely with our like-minded colleagues to focus the Security Council’s attention on the climate crisis and its consequences for international peace and security”.

Niger and Ireland first circulated a text in September after an open debate on climate and security. It was largely based on the German draft.

During the difficult consultations held since October, India, Russia, and China repeatedly expressed scepticism about the need for the resolution. India, along with Russia, conveyed apprehension that bringing this topic on the Council’s agenda would allow the UNSC to use its coercive powers under the Charter in matters of climate change, as per a report on the negotiations by Security Council Report.

After the text was put under silence procedure, the three countries broke the silence through their letters that pointed out that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was the appropriate forum and that there was no scientific evidence of a link between climate change and security.

There were further talks between Niger and Ireland and the key objecting countries. One clause removed as a result was the provision for the appointment of a UN special representative for climate-related security risks. The draft resolution was ‘put in blue’ on December 6.

As an alternative, Russia, along with India and China, proposed a draft resolution that alluded to the adverse impact of climate change on the stability of Africa’s Sahel region. This, however, did not get traction in the Council.

Reiterating its objections made during the negotiation process, Tirumurti said on Monday that the resolution would have led to climate change decisions “to be taken out of the wider international community represented in the UNFCCC and given instead to the Security Council”.

“Ironically, many of the UNSC members are the main contributors of climate change due to historical emissions. If the Security Council indeed takes over the responsibility on this issue, a few states will then have a free-hand in deciding on all climate-related issues. This is clearly neither desirable nor acceptable,” he noted.

He also asserted that the draft resolution undermines “the hard-won consensus which we reached in Glasgow”.

“It sends a wrong message to the developing countries that instead of addressing their concerns and holding developed countries responsible for meeting their commitments under the UNFCCC, we are willing to be divided and side-tracked under the guise of security,” Tirumurti said.

Tirumurti also expounded on the circulation of the alternative draft. “Over-simplification of causes of conflict will not help in resolving them; worse, it can be misleading. This is the reason India supported a draft focusing exclusively on the Sahel. But this was not considered by the sponsors for reasons best known to them,” he said.

Also Read: UNSC Watch: India Continues To Draw a Line in the Sand on Security Council’s Domain

Attempt to gain leverage, says Russia

In his statement, Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia claimed that the draft resolution was an attempt to “gain leverage in the Council to impose a particular vision with regard to fulfilment of climate commitments and ultimately to initiate putting any country on the Council’s agenda under the climate pretext since climate-related issues are felt all over the world”.

With this vote, Russia has wielded its veto 142 times since the inception of the United Nations. The last time it used the veto was in conjunction with China to scuttle two draft resolutions related to Syria in July 2020.

China’s abstention was notable as its veto usage has gone up in recent years. However, it had previously used its veto when the subject pitted them against the US and the West. This wasn’t the case in the climate change draft resolution, which had a lot of backers from the developing world.

Making a similar argument as Russia and India, the Chinese permanent representative Zhang Jun said that the Council should “avoid pan-securitisation of climate issues”. He also noted that the draft resolution did not refer to the basic principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, which is the foundation for climate justice.

As per observers, China’s abstention, rather than casting a veto, may have been influenced by the backing of the resolution by a large number of African countries, where Beijing has made vast financial and political investments.

Sources asserted that the developments in the UNSC were “not a RIC action”, referring to the trilateral ministerial forum of Russia, India and China.

In their statements, the US, the UK, Norway, Estonia, Mexico, Tunisia and Ireland criticised Russia for using its veto. “We know there is no credible answer from those Council members who have chosen to ignore these challenges posing a threat to international peace and security which is the Security Council’s primary responsibility,” said the Estonian representative.

Speaking in his national capacity, Niger’s Abdou Abarry asked why the UNSC could not approve a resolution on climate change given that it had adopted resolutions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which comes under World Health Organisation’s purview.

He stated that during the last open debate on December 9, some countries were “callous enough to call us short-sighted” for drafting the resolution. “We are clear and far-sighted,” asserted Abarry.

The third African non-permanent member in the UNSC, Kenya, supported the draft resolution but did not join the long list of co-sponsors. “Our reticence to co-sponsor came from analysing that there is a profound risk in the passing of this resolution without consensus. We advised the co-chairs that it was worthwhile to fight for consensus,” said the Kenyan permanent representative, Martin Kimani.

He also raised questions on the actions of the West in COP26 in Glasgow and at the UNSC.

“It must be said that our disappointments at the reversals in Glasgow were caused by some of the same members of the Security Council who are today the strongest supporters of this resolution. It leaves us to now wonder what has changed between Glasgow and the Security Council chamber,” said Kimani.

He also pointed out that UNSC had consistently resisted taking “ambitious action” to allow UN support missions in Africa to respond effectively to escalating terrorism threats in regions such as the Sahel. “On the one hand, you have resistance to just climate change action, on the other to bold action against terrorism. Yet there is seeming enthusiasm for a resolution on the combination of climate change and security,” stated Kimani.