Global Policy Forum

British Push on CO2 at Security Council


By Ed Pilkington and David Adam

March 8, 2007

The British government is considering putting climate change on to the agenda of the UN security council for the first time to underline the urgency of the issue. UK officials are holding talks with the other 14 member states ahead of Britain taking over the council presidency for the month of April. Early soundings have met resistance from countries such as the US and South Africa. Britain would only propose bringing climate change into security council business if it had unanimous support.

Global warming has thus far been considered outside the remit of the council, which is mandated under the UN charter to maintain "international peace and security". But the British government - led by key figures including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Miliband - has come to the view that it is a matter of international security as it will cause mass migrations and aggravate disputes over borders, water and other resources. The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, raised what she called climate security in her speech to the UN general assembly in September. "Our climate presents us with an ever-growing threat to international security. Dealing with climate change is no longer a choice, it is an imperative," she said.

A report commissioned by the US government warned at the weekend that the US must prepare to intervene in a growing number of major crises across the world brought on by climate change, such as water shortages, collapses in civil order and "the implosion of one or more major cities". Unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions and the expected temperature rise over the coming decades could provoke social unrest in vulnerable places from Delhi and Mexico City to Lima, said the report by Global Business Network (GBN), a consultancy group in San Francisco. It said action may be needed soon to "forestall the worst effects of collapsing ecosystems, water systems, or radical restructuring of the global insurance industry" and warned that US policies on global warming could threaten its strategic interests abroad and weaken its bargaining power on key issues such as trade and security.

The initial reaction to bringing climate change into the security council has been less than enthusiastic on the part of the US government, one of the council's five permanent members along with the UK, which has consistently favoured voluntary measures to deal with emissions and has refused to sign the Kyoto protocol.

Other member states have been hesitant because they are suspicious of land grabs by the big developed powers of the security council on the territory of the UN's general assembly, which tends to represent the interests of developing nations. South Africa, which holds a temporary seat on the council, has expressed such a doubt despite being in favour of more robust action on global warming. Foreign Office officials point to the example of Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to the UN between 1999 and 2001, who put Aids on to the security council agenda with beneficial results.

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