The Multilateralist

The Security Council’s non-meeting on climate change

On Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to consider the security implications of climate change. Council diplomats will hear from the secretary general, a top World Bank official, a leading climate expert, and representatives of island states most directly affected. For the assembled diplomats, it promises to be chock full of information. However informative, ...

On Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to consider the security implications of climate change. Council diplomats will hear from the secretary general, a top World Bank official, a leading climate expert, and representatives of island states most directly affected. For the assembled diplomats, it promises to be chock full of information. However informative, the meeting is not technically a Security Council session. Instead, it’s an "Arria formula" gathering. The UN describes them this way:

"Arria-formula meetings" are very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or convenors) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message. They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations — often at the latter’s request — as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council.

Informality is a key attribute of these meetings, but so too is deniability; the Arria formula allows Council diplomats to meet even when key members doubt that the subject merits a meeting. As Security Council Report points out, China, Russia and a few other members are not keen to have the Council grapple with climate change any more than it already has. 

On Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to consider the security implications of climate change. Council diplomats will hear from the secretary general, a top World Bank official, a leading climate expert, and representatives of island states most directly affected. For the assembled diplomats, it promises to be chock full of information. However informative, the meeting is not technically a Security Council session. Instead, it’s an "Arria formula" gathering. The UN describes them this way:

"Arria-formula meetings" are very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or convenors) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message. They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations — often at the latter’s request — as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council.

Informality is a key attribute of these meetings, but so too is deniability; the Arria formula allows Council diplomats to meet even when key members doubt that the subject merits a meeting. As Security Council Report points out, China, Russia and a few other members are not keen to have the Council grapple with climate change any more than it already has. 

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist