The United Nations Security Council today declined to accept that climate change was a matter of peace and international security. The New York Times reports that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was vociferous about her colleagues lack of action, saying, “This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic.” This is the first time since 2007 that the Council has considered a statement on climate change. It was brought to debate by Germany, which presides over the Security Council this month.
While the Council declined to accept climate change as part of its purview, the final statement after the debate noted, “concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”
UN Environmental Program head Achim Steiner warned that recent crises, such as the famine in Somalia, show 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”. He noted that in 2010, 42 million people were displaced by natural disasters, 90 percent of which were related to weather.
Russia, India and Brazil were among the countries questioning whether the Security Council should become involved with climate change issues, characterizing it as “mission creep” or beyond the purview of the Council.
Marcus Stephen, president of the tiny island nation of Nauru, which is threatened with destruction from rising sea levels, pleaded with the Council to act, saying of climate change, “It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, and it carries the potential to destabilize governments and ignite conflict. I urge you: Do not bury your heads in the sand. Seize this opportunity to lead.”
In contrast, the U.S. military, not known for its liberal views, has recognized and is actively preparing for the effects of climate change on national security. Back in 2009, former head of Central Command General Anthony Zinni wrote, “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms, and that will involve human lives.”
Photo: Oxfam East Africa via Flickr