Police as first responders to the global climate crisis

Sep 27, 2019

By Luís Carrilho, United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division

The basic function of all police, including the 12,000 UN Police colleagues currently deployed to 16 peace operations and political missions, is to protect and to serve the population. Climate change poses one of the most serious threats to regional and global security today, and the police will be on the frontlines as first responders.


As global temperatures rise, conflicts stemming from drought, desertification, land degradation, water scarcity and food insecurity are increasingly prevalent. People leaving their homes to flee these crises often compete with local populations for scarce resources, exacerbating inter-communal tensions. At the same time, the loss of arable land and livelihoods leaves youth more vulnerable to being recruited and radicalized by armed groups or being preyed on by organized criminals such as human traffickers, while fewer socio-economic opportunities lead to exploitation of natural resources and wildlife. We are also seeing a growing convergence of environmental crime with corruption, bribery, drug trafficking and cybercrime.

UN Photo/Marco Dormino

The UN Security Council has noted the adverse effects of climate change on stability in many contexts that host UN peace operations, including the Lake Chad Basin, Somalia, West Africa and the Sahel, Mali and Sudan.

In this context, the United Nations Police (UNPOL) has established a Serious and Organized Crime Team at Headquarters to coordinate with partners, including focal points in peace operations, to support information sharing, capacity-building, situational awareness and early-warning mechanisms.

Specialized Police Teams sourced from Member States further support these efforts by providing expertise to our missions in areas that will likely become more urgent because of global warming, such as environmental crimes, human trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, crime analysis and police forensics.

Such teams have already been deployed to our missions in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mali and South Sudan, among others.

We are currently seeking Member State assistance for a team to address the growing threat of natural resource trafficking by armed groups and criminal networks in the Central African Republic.

UNPOL has a key role to play in the 2030 Agenda, particularly on Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16). SDG 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, aims to provide access to justice for all and builds effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This includes our efforts to help Member States realize effective, representative, responsive and accountable police services.

UN Photo/Albert González Farran

At the core of Action for Peacekeeping (A4P), the Secretary-General’s initiative to strengthen UN Peacekeeping, is the principle of shared responsibility in ensuring the success of the peacekeeping enterprise. For UNPOL, field missions, Member States and partners, there can be no challenge more urgent than the climate emergency threatening lives, livelihoods and communities. Working together, we can mitigate the security threats from the climate emergency facing our planet.

The author is the United Nations Police Adviser. Follow him on Twitter at @LuisCarrilhoPC.

Police as first responders to the global climate crisis was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.