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COVID, conflict, climate: the UK’s priorities while leading Security Council

COVID, conflict, climate: the UK’s priorities while leading Security Council

  • As council president this month, Britain aims to overcome differences between members and broker deals, says envoy
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair council session focusing on the security implications of climate change

Updated 02 February 2021

Ephrem Kossaify

NEW YORK: With the election this year of India, Norway, Ireland, Kenya and Mexico to the non-permanent, rotating membership of the Security Council, the 15 members of the UN body have a combined population of 3.5 billion people.


“This is a significant breakthrough and worth considering,” Barbara Woodward, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, said on Monday as the UK took over the monthly presidency of the council from Tunisia.


Outlining the council’s agenda for the month, she said the UK’s overall objective is to enable the Security Council to address the most significant global challenges.


“Those challenges (can be summed up in) three words: COVID, conflict and climate,” she added.


The arrival of the new members, along with a renewed commitment to multilateralism from the new administration in Washington, set the stage for a council that could create opportunities for new agreements, said Woodward.


She vowed to focus on transparency and outcomes, and take into account the perspective of young people because the current challenges the world faces are “intergenerational.”


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. One of the duties of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security, and so UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a council session this month focusing on the security implications of climate change and its links to conflict prevention.


“We want to look in particular at the threats that climate poses to conflict, to peace and security, (and) the way in which droughts lead to famine,” said Woodward. “Famine and floods can cause displacement (and) they can cause conflict very easily. So we want to explore these sorts of linkages and look at ways of preventing risks to peace and security.”


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab will also chair a Security Council meeting to discuss the effects of vaccine rollouts on international peace and security, and ways in which ceasefires can be handled in conflict zones.


It will also consider the logistics for deploying funding raised through COVAX, the vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, in an effort to address the obstacles poorer nations face in gaining access to vaccine supplies, and the implications for peace and security of vaccines becoming available around the world at differing rates.


“We remain very committed to the global rollout of vaccines,” said Woodward. “It is a truism (that) none of us is safe until all of us are safe.


“The real challenge is the logistical one of getting vaccines out to the global South. We’ll spend some time during our presidency getting vaccines to difficult areas.”


The Security Council is at its best when it is a forum for solving problems, the envoy said, and the UK aims to help overcome the differences between members and broker deals.


“Throughout our presidency we will encourage open, constructive discussions and interactivity and debate,” she added.


One meeting this month that will not be an open forum, however, is a session on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. “Some pressure from one member state” made this impossible, Woodward said. Separate meetings will be held to discuss the humanitarian and political situations in the war-torn country.


“It is distressing that we have made so little progress on this long-running conflict and its humanitarian implications,” she added. “Human needs in Syria have increased by about 2 million (people) to 13 million — that is three quarters of the Syrian population requiring humanitarian assistance.”


During its presidency of the council, the UK will also highlight the continuing threat posed by Daesh. The most difficult issue related to this, according to Woodward, is the question of what to do with foreign fighters captured in Syria. She said the British view continues to be that these foreign terrorists should be prosecuted as close as possible to where they committed their crimes.


Also on the agenda this month is the situation in Yemen, “where the political process was badly damaged after the attack on Aden airport at the end of the year,” said Woodward. “And more worryingly, the threat of famine hangs over 13.5 million people (in the country).


On the Palestinian issue, she pointed out that her country has repeatedly urged Israel to halt its illegal settlement expansion on the West Bank and condemned the recent decision to proceed with new settlements.


“There have been some encouraging signs,” she added. “The US has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution, to reengaging with the Palestinian authorities, and to working with the Quartet.” The Quartet — the UN, US, EU and Russia — is involved in efforts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.


Regarding Iran and the possibility of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, Woodward said “quite important negotiations” need to take place on the issue but the JCPOA remains a “key point.” The deal was signed in 2015 but President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018. The Biden administration has stated that it could return to the deal but that fresh negotiations will be required.


Woodward also expressed concern about the recent announcement by Iran and evidence of its further uranium-enrichment activities as part of its nuclear program, which is supposed to be restricted by the JCPOA.


 

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