U.S. Urges U.N. Security Council to Make ‘Climate Change’ A Priority

By Patrick Goodenough | July 21, 2011 | 4:44 AM EDT

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – For the first time in four years, the U.N. Security Council debated Wednesday whether climate change should be considered a priority worthy of the council’s attention, but it failed to reach agreement on the politically charged issue.

The council settled for a watered-down statement referring to the “possible security implications” of climate change after Russia, China and others opposed a strong text promoted by Germany, which holds the rotating presidency this month. Germany had pushed for a first-ever council statement linking climate change to global peace and security – despite critics’ arguments that the source, magnitude and consequences of climate change remain in dispute.

Russian delegate Alexander Pankin said many countries were leery of putting climate change on the council’s agenda.

“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,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice lashed out at countries – unnamed – that were blocking progress.

She told the meeting that “dozens of countries … whose very existence is threatened” by climate change had asked the council to show its understanding of their plight.

“Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this council is saying, by its silence, in effect, ‘Tough luck.’ This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly, it’s a dereliction of duty.”

The last time the Security Council discussed this issue, in 2007, was also the first time. Then it was Britain holding the presidency and initiating the debate, and China driving the opposition.

Joining China were some developing nations suspicious that the council was trying to broaden its power and encroach on areas traditionally falling under other U.N. entities, including the General Assembly, U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), and U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat.

Similar arguments were aired during Wednesday’s debate, with non-permanent members India and Brazil among those voicing concern.

Under the U.N. Charter, the Security Council has “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” In order for the council to take on the issue of climate change, it is therefore necessary for it to determine that the phenomenon poses a risk to “international peace and security.”

Unlike other U.N. bodies currently responsible for climate change-related issues, the Security Council’s decisions and resolutions are legally binding.

Addressing Wednesday’s meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also pushed for recognition of the “threat.”

“The facts are clear,” he told the meeting. “Climate change is real; it is accelerating in a dangerous manner; and it not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security.”

Also addressing the council, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner conceded that “the world does not have perfect knowledge on current or future climate change” and said it was a challenge to determine what contributions greenhouse gas emissions were making to events like the severe drought now affecting the Horn of Africa.

“But human beings have never planned strategies or responses based on 100 per cent certainty,” he continued. “Rather we make decisions based on risk assessments ...”

Steiner then pointed to data featuring in reports of the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), such as the finding that storms and cyclones had become more intense over the past 30 years and droughts more frequent, as well as projections of a three-foot sea level rise this century – a development that could threaten low-lying islands and other coastal areas.

“Irrespective of the specific causes and drivers, there is clear evidence that our climate is changing and that the pace and scale of that change is accelerating in many areas.”

Turning to the security implications, Steiner cited natural disasters, food insecurity and conflicts over resources.

He said countries where natural resources had played a key role in the conflict have accounted for 10 peacekeeping operations mandated by the Security Council. Their combined cost, $35 billion, “represents half of the total peacekeeping budget ever spent.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow