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Professor Mark Nevitt: Climate Change—A Threat to International Peace & Security?

Posted on Monday 8/31/2020
Mark Nevitt

(Opinio Juris | Aug. 29, 2020) Is the climate-security century upon us?  If so, what are the implications for international legal governance and institutions?  In his recent Opinio Juris essay, based on his provocative and meticulously researched article, Atmospheric InterventionProfessor Martin argues that the climate change crisis may well exert pressure for change on the governing jus ad bellum regime.  

Climate Change: A Destabilizing Physical and Legal Force

I am persuaded by Prof. Martin’s argument that the climate change crisis is likely to impact the international collective security system.  While his focus was on the jus ad bellum regime, he briefly discusses the role of the UN Security Council and other institutional structures.   My own work has focused on how the crisis will implicate the international institutions and governance structures that oversee the entire collective security system, particularly the UN Security Council.

In a forthcoming law review article, I argue that climate change will force us to look at international institutions and governance structures with fresh eyes as we struggle to prevent climate-exacerbated conflict and save island nations from possible climate-driven extinction.  In turn, the UN Security Council can and should play a substantive role in addressing the multi-faceted challenges that we face in our “climate security century.” 

Climate change demands both innovative governance solutions and a legal entrepreneurship mindset—using existing tools in new ways.   After all, climate change is an aptly named “super-wicked” problem—no one technological innovation or legal agreement is likely to solve it by itself.  As climate change’s risks are felt—not to mention the risk of “green swan” climate events that transcend any one risk model—we must proactively expand the climate governance aperture.  Call it the “all hands-on deck” approach to international climate governance.  In what follows, I acknowledge both the challenges to UN Security Council action on climate, while arguing that the Council should take three concrete steps to meet the climate security challenges …

Read the full article.