The Associated Press
By EDITH M. LEDERER
The U.N. 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 council presidency, organized the open session to highlight what its foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said was the "security imperative" to tackle climate change because it can exacerbate problems that cause conflicts and threatens the entire planet.
"What makes wars start? Fights over water. Changing patterns of rainfall. Fights over food production, land use," Beckett said. "There are few greater potential threats to our economies, too ... but also to peace and security itself."
"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," she said.
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 U.N. entities.
Climate change and energy are issues for the General Assembly, where all 192 U.N. member states are represented, and the Economic and Social Council, not the 15-member Security Council, they said.
Pakistan's Deputy Ambassador Farukh Amil, whose country heads the Group of 77, told the council its debate not only "infringes" on the authority of other U.N. organs but "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 is 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."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council that global warming can not only have serious environmental, social and economic effects, but 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" scenarios, 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 scenarios from becoming reality, he said.
Ban noted that his predecessor, Kofi Annan, warned "environmental degradation has the potential to destabilize already conflict-prone regions." He said he wanted "to renew and amplify this call."
"Compared to the cost of conflict and its consequences," Ban said, "the cost of prevention is far lower -- in financial terms but most importantly in human lives, and life quality."