Global Policy Forum

UN Attacks Climate Change as Threat to Peace

Associated Press
April 17, 2007

The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday debated the impact of climate change on conflicts around the world, brushing aside objections from developing countries that global warming is not an issue of international peace and security. Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, organized the open session to highlight what its foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said was the "security imperative" to tackle climate change because it can worsen problems that cause conflicts and can threaten the entire planet.

"What makes wars start?" she said. "Fights over water; changing patterns of rainfall; fights over food production; land use." She added: "There are few greater potential threats to our economies, too, but also to peace and security itself." Beckett continued, "This is a groundbreaking day in the history of the Security Council, the first time ever that we will debate climate change as a matter of international peace and security."

The two major groups representing developing countries - the Nonaligned Movement and the Group of 77 - wrote separate letters accusing the Security Council of "ever-increasing encroachment" on the role and responsibility of other UN entities. Climate change and energy are issues for the General Assembly, where all 192 UN member states are represented, and the Economic and Social Council, not the Security Council, they said.

Pakistan's deputy ambassador, Farukh Amil, whose country heads the Group of 77, told the council that its debate not only "infringes" on the authority of other UN organs but also "compromises the rights of the general membership of the United Nations." Beckett, who spent five years as Britain's negotiator on climate change, said she understood the reservations.

"I'm the last person to want to undermine the important work that those bodies do," she said, "but this is an issue that threatens the peace and security of the whole planet, and the Security Council has to be the right place to debate it." Beckett said Britain was following the precedent of the first Security Council debate on another important global issue: HIV and AIDS in 2000. "We want to see the same thing happen with climate change, that it comes from the fringes into the mainstream," she said.

Over the past few years, she said, the threat from climate change has grown, and its impact goes far beyond the environment "to the very heart of the security agenda." She cited flooding, disease and famine leading to unprecedented migration; drought and crop failure intensifying competition for food, water and energy; and the potential for economic disruption on a scale not seen since World War II.

On Monday, Beckett noted, top U.S. retired admirals and generals warned in a new report that climate change was a "threat multiplier for instability." She said Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, whose economy depends on hydropower from a reservoir that is now depleted by drought, has called climate change "an act of aggression by the rich against the poor." "He is one of the first leaders to see this problem in security terms," Beckett said. "He will not be the last."

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, told the council that global warming could have not only serious environmental, social and economic effects but also implications for peace and security. "This is especially true in vulnerable regions that face multiple stresses at the same time - pre-existing conflict, poverty and unequal access to resources, weak institutions, food insecurity and incidence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS," he said.

Ban outlined several "alarming" possibilities, including limited or threatened access to energy increasing the risk of conflict, a scarcity of food and water transforming peaceful competition into violence, and floods and droughts polarizing societies and weakening the ability of countries to resolve conflicts peacefully. The world must come together, including governments and the private sector, to prevent these possibilities from becoming reality, he said.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Climate Change
More Information on the Environment
More General Articles on the UN Security Council Agenda
More Information on Ban Ki-Moon


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.