Global Climate Change Policy (UNSC)

Educator Overview

Case Overview

Fictional, set in the present day. Developed countries have been releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In recent decades, rapid economic growth in major developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil have led to significant increases in their own greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other organizations and governments have concluded that the warming observed in recent decades is a consequence of human activity. The effects of this global warming or climate change pose risks not only to the environment, but also to the security and livelihoods of people around the world, both now and in the future. Various international responses are possible, but the questions of how to cut emissions and prepare for climate consequences, and who should bear the costs of doing so, have few simple answers. UN Security Council members will need to weigh the options, bearing in mind the potential impact of climate change, the potential effects of proposed measures to limit or prevent it, and the need to secure international support for the multilateral approach from both developed and developing countries.  

Decision Point

A major climate summit is approaching. At the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015, world leaders pledged to reduce or limit their countries’ emissions and to monitor progress toward these goals. However, a new scientific report warns that governments will need to make urgent and unprecedented changes beyond their commitments under the Paris Agreement to avoid serious and potentially irreversible environmental consequences. Despite this alarming information, countries have taken relatively few additional steps toward meeting ambitious targets and in some cases have even retreated from their climate commitments to the Paris Agreement. 

As a part of the upcoming summit, the UN Security Council is convening. The Council will discuss, and take possible action on, the issue of climate change. Historically, the UN Security Council has not taken serious action on climate change. This has left climate action under the auspices of states and other UN bodies. In recent years, the council has begun to discuss the effects of climate change on global security. In light of the growing threat that climate change poses, members will need to decide whether addressing climate change is within the Security Council’s purview. If so, the Council will then decide on what actions are available that could address climate change generally or limit its effects on global peace and security. 

Learning Goals

CFR Education simulations use a variety of pedagogical tools to create an effective, meaningful, and memorable learning experience for students that builds their global literacy. Students will develop crucial skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Students will complete authentic assessments that feel relevant: instead of five-paragraph essays and book reports, students will write policy memos and participate in a role-play of a meeting of a foreign policy–making body. There are no right or wrong answers in actual policy deliberations, and there are none here, either; students will walk away from this experience with an appreciation for the complexity of policy questions.

In this simulation, students will learn about the UN Security Council, as well as meeting these learning outcomes specific to this simulation:

  • Students will understand threats posed by climate change as well as the international attempts to address it through international agreements such as the Paris Agreement.
  • Students will consider if the UN Security Council should take action on climate change as a threat to global security.
  • Students will evaluate if it is appropriate for the Security Council to take action on climate change and, if so, consider the actions it will take.

Concepts and Issues


  • International environmental policy 
  • International economic policy 
  • Multilateralism 
  • International development  


  • Intersection of climate change and international security 
  • Interests and responsibility of developing and developed states 
  • Uncertainty of threats and of policy effects 

Policy Options: Educator's Guide

This section presents context, potential benefits and drawbacks, and other information about the policy options outlined in the case that you may find helpful as you guide the role-play and assess students. 

The UN Security Council’s task is to determine what its role is in addressing climate change and how the Security Council should approach the intersection between climate and security moving forward. As members decide what, if any, action the Security Council should take on climate change, they will need to consider how to gain the unanimous approval of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, whose diverging interests could be a barrier to robust action.

Policy Options 

The United Nations has been involved in addressing climate change for nearly fifty years. However, the first UN Security Council meeting that addressed the connection between climate change and insecurity did not take place until April 2007. The council has increasingly held meetings to discuss the connections between climate and security in the past decade. That being said, the first climate security resolution was not passed until March 2017. Resolution 2349 primarily addressed protection for civilians from terrorist acts by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.  The resolution also recognized climate-related risks that would continue to destabilize the region. Effects of the resolution on environmental monitoring remain weak. In recent years, some countries have used their presidential terms at the UN Security Council to organize high-level debates on climate and security risks.  For example, Germany used its term to establish an informal expert group on climate-related risks to peace and security, which first met in November 2020 and focused on Somalia. 

Within the United Nations, the Security Council has the unique authority to adopt resolutions that are considered binding on member states. It also has significant authority to coordinate action across multiple agencies and organizations within the United Nations. Despite multiple UN agencies addressing climate change at different levels already, the UN Security Council has yet to use this authority to address climate issues directly.

So far, council members have not reached a consensus about whether the Security Council should specifically address climate change. In 2021, Ireland and Niger jointly sponsored a draft resolution acknowledging the effects of climate change on security issues. They called for greater consideration of climate issues in future Security Council matters. The resolution gained the support of twelve members, but ultimately failed after Russia vetoed it.

As the threat of climate change grows and its effects on global security become more apparent, Security Council members will likely need to revisit questions of the Council’s role in addressing climate issues. Several members of the council as well as small island states and developing states could argue that climate change represents a security concern. Such a concern could require climate-related assistance to those most directly affected. Other member states could counter that climate change is not in-and-of-itself a threat to international peace and security. Taking this position would mean climate change is outside the purview of the Security Council, which has traditionally only dealt with acute threats. Considering the major warnings expressed by climate experts, some member states could call for the creation of a more robust climate agreement that implements market-based approaches to mitigate climate change. 

As members decide what action the Security Council should take on climate change, they will need to consider how to gain the unanimous approval of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. Diverging interests among the permanent members could be a barrier to robust action.
In their deliberations, Security Council members will first need to decide whether it is appropriate for the Security Council to take action on climate change at all. If they do elect to take action, members could consider several options:

Formally Expand the Scope of the UN Security Council to Reflect Climate Change as a Threat to International Security

The UN Security Council could decide that climate change represents a threat to international peace and security. Therefore it would fall  within the council’s purview to address. In its most ambitious form, this option could entail adopting a resolution authorizing peacekeeping missions to climate-threatened areas change–related food and water scarcity. As climate driven scarcity and displacement grows more acute, a peacekeeping force could maintain stability and ensure access to humanitarian aid. 

The Security Council could further demand that member states allow regular independent risk assessments of their mitigation strategies to ensure they are compatible with UN climate goals. Members could also consider addressing climate risks to international security by building out early-warning systems and commissioning annual reports on climate and security. They could further create a Climate Security Committee within the council to institutionalize future climate-related action and coordinate the activity of other UN organs to address climate risks.

This option would represent an unprecedented expansion of the Security Council’s operations. However,  it could allow for a robust international climate response and mitigate many security risks posed by climate change. It is likely to be controversial and could alienate large emitters such as China. 

Call for a Renegotiation of the Paris Agreement

Considering the security risks raised by climate change and the insufficiency of the Paris Agreement as outlined by climate experts, members could decide to adopt a resolution calling for renewed climate negotiations. This move could prompt the creation of a more robust climate agreement with stricter emissions targets. 
A new international climate agreement could also adopt new measures to secure emissions reductions, including:

  • Global cap-and-trade system: A global cap-and-trade system would set national limits on emissions and establish an international market for permits. The Paris Agreement lays out a framework for a global cap-and-trade system to directly limit emissions and creates a market price for them, but this system has not yet been established. Under a renewed agreement, a global cap-and-trade system could cap emissions at an agreed-upon level and issue or sell emissions permits adding up to that cap to major emitters. Those emitting less than their allotted amount could sell their extra permits to others emitting more. This would create a financial incentive to emit less. Over time, the cap could be lowered, increasing the value of the ever-scarcer permits and ensuring that emissions decline. Under such a system, wealthy countries unable to meet their targets could also fund an emissions-reduction project in a developing country as compensation, a practice known as offsetting. 
  • Carbon tax: A carbon tax does not directly limit emissions. However, by setting a price on CO2 emissions (usually per ton), it creates a financial incentive to reduce them. To the extent that the tax is factored in the price of consumer goods and electricity, it could make these items more expensive. This option could encourage individuals to consume goods associated with lower carbon emissions. It could also cause them to consume fewer goods and less energy overall. A tax would also raise revenue that governments could use to lower deficits, provide new services, or decrease other taxes. A global tax could be agreed to at the international level. However,  in most cases, including in the United States, such a tax would also need to be approved by national legislatures.

A binding, international agreement would be the most ambitious goal and could have the most benefit. However, it also faces the most obstacles. Such an agreement would be expensive for countries to implement. Stringent climate standards could drive up prices on many goods, potentially harming those living in poverty. Developed and developing countries often disagree on who should bear the main responsibility for mitigation efforts. This makes an agreement that binds countries to specific steps difficult to achieve. Member states could consider whether to mandate subsidies as a method of offsetting the financial consequences of any agreement. Both cap-and-trade systems and carbon taxes are also politically controversial in many countries, including the United States. Given these obstacles, member states will need to consider how to ensure maximum participation in negotiations. If climate activists and leaders perceive that an agreement stronger than the Paris Agreement cannot be reached, they could opt to not partake in new negotiations. On the other hand, if an agreement is perceived as too severe, it could drive major emitters away. 

Implement Climate-Related Assistance 

The UN Security Council could adopt a resolution requiring high-emitting member states to provide financial, technological, or professional assistance to poorer countries to help them mitigate their emissions, develop or adopt new technology, or adapt to climate change. 

Wealthier countries could, for example, directly finance green projects in developing countries, including renewable power plants and anti-deforestation initiatives. Many countries and organizations, including the United States and international financial institutions, have already been doing this through climate funds. Adaptation assistance likewise could take many forms. These adaptations could include support such as sharing better climate information, providing drought-resistant seeds to help farmers better cope with climate effects, and assisting in infrastructure improvements such as flood protection systems.

Climate-related assistance, whether pursued alone or as part of a broader approach, is subject to debate. Advocates often argue that it is morally necessary because many poor countries have done little to contribute to climate change but are likely to suffer some of its worst effects. Such assistance could also have practical political effects. It demonstrates that industrialized countries are willing to address the concerns and needs of developing countries. This can increase the willingness of developing countries to join global mitigation efforts. Nevertheless, members could simply not want to commit their resources to providing assistance for other countries or they could not consider climate a priority security issue for the UN Security Council.