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UN Warns Of Climate Threats To Peace And Security

July 21, 2011

The United Nations persistently continues to struggle to forge an international accord on climate change issues as the problem continues to pose major threats to the future of peace and security, a senior UN official warned on Wednesday.

Security Council members at UN agreed to disagree over whether they should address possible instability provoked by problems such as rising sea levels or competition over water resources.

With the major powers in a deadlock, President Marcus Stephen of the tiny Pacific island of Nauru pleaded with the council for action to be taken.

Speaking on behalf of some 14 island states vulnerable to disappearing or at least losing significant territory due to rising sea levels, Stephen pondered aloud about how the debate might differ if larger countries were affected.

“What if the pollution coming from our island nations was threatening the very existence of the major emitters?” he asked. “What would be the nature of today’s debate under those circumstances?”

Countries threatened with extinction are tired of merely hearing the sympathy for their plight, Stephen said.

“Demonstrate it by formally recognizing that climate change is a threat to international peace and security,” he said, comparing it to nuclear proliferation or terrorism given its potential to destabilize governments and create conflict. “Neither has ever led to the disappearance of an entire nation, though that is what we are confronted with today.”

Despite such pleas, the debate broke down along the same basic fault lines as the first such discussion four years ago. Much of the argument was about bureaucratic rights.

Stephen said he wished council members were more concerned about encroaching waters than encroachments on their bureaucratic turf.

Russia and China, backed by much of the developing world, rejected the notion that the issue even belonged on the Security Council agenda. The argument was that other UN bodies were the proper venue for such discussions, particularly the UN”Ëœs Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Climate change may affect security but it is fundamentally a sustainable development issue,” said Wang Min, the deputy permanent representative from China, repeating a longstanding Chinese position that the developed world should devote more aid to helping those affected. “The Security Council does not have the expertise in climate change and does not have the necessary means and resources.”

American ambassador, Susan E. Rice, lashed out at members for not addressing the problem head on. “This is more disappointing. It’s pathetic,” she said.

Outside organizations that track climate change negotiations said that despite the lack of a clear consensus, any high profile attention paid to the issue was helpful. They also noted a certain irony that countries arguing against Security Council action, namely Russia and China, were actually taking steps toward mitigating climate change at home, whereas the US, which has repeatedly taken the side of the UN’s climate change stance, lacks a national program on the matter.

“There is an interesting contrast between countries not being willing to move on climate change in this venue and what they are doing on the ground,” Keya Chatterjee, the director of international climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund, told the New York Times.

Achim Steiner from the UN Environment Program said climate change would also “exponentially” increase the scale of natural disasters in the coming decades.

Recent crises, such as the one in Somalia, illustrate that “our capacity to handle these kinds of events is proving a challenge, particularly if they occur simultaneously and start affecting, for instance, global food markets, regional food security issues, displacing people, creating refugees across borders,” said Steiner.

“Clearly the international community – if the scenarios in climate change for the future come true – will face an exponential growth of these kinds of extreme events,” he added.

His comments came as the UN Security Council formally debated climate change for the first time in four years, with Germany pressing for the first-ever council statement linking climate change to global peace and security.

Diplomats said there were intense negotiations between Germany and Russia, which initially opposed any council action, before a statement on the issue was agreed to.

Speaking as negotiations were continuing, Russian envoy Alexander Pankin argued that the move was unnecessary and opposed by many countries.

“We believe that involving the Security Council in a regular review of the issue of climate change will not bring any added value whatsoever and will merely lead to further increased politicization of this issue and increased disagreements between countries,” said Pankin.

The final statement expressed “concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

It also requested UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include information on possible climate change impacts in his regular reports on global trouble-spots.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig welcomed the outcome, describing it as a “good day today for climate security.”

“We had quite extensive discussions,” Wittig said. “We wanted to get everyone on board. And we did.”

Image Caprtion: Council discusses climate change impact on peace and security. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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