Britain Hopes UN Climate Debate Spurs Policy Push
LONDON -- Britain hopes the first climate change debate at the U.N. Security Council next week will jolt global leaders into making the policy changes needed to head off a looming security threat from environmental damage.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, a former environment minister who will chair the debate on April 17, has warned countries must tackle climate change or risk famine, water shortages and failing energy infrastructures -- which could in turn threaten global security.
"We need new political impetus if we are to mobilise on the many fronts in our societies to trigger a rapid shift in investment from a high-carbon to a low-carbon global economy," a senior British official said on Thursday.
"(The debate will create) a stronger sense of urgency, a stronger sense of shared commitment that we hope will then be projected into all the places that are taking decisions about what we actually do in response to climate change."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been calling for strong international measures to tackle climate change.
In March, Britain became the first country to propose laws setting binding limits on greenhouse gases, to set an example as it pushes to extend the Kyoto pact tackling emissions to include big polluters such as the United States and China.
However Britain will not be pushing for a resolution or concrete commitments from members of the Security Council after the debate. It has asked other countries to send foreign ministers, as well as their usual ambassadors.
"Don't underestimate the significance of the debate. Look at the impact that the Security Council's debate on HIV/AIDS had in 2000. These things can sometimes change the way in which the world thinks," a second official said.
That 2000 debate was followed by a 2001 U.N. declaration of commitment and then by the establishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and made the issue a mainstream one with global security implications.
Experts warn that by drastically diminishing resources in some of the most volatile parts of the world, climate change could also create potentially catastrophic tensions in such regions as the Middle East.
Initial reactions to the idea of debating climate change were cool from several members, according to diplomats.
But British officials said on Thursday the United States, criticised regularly for not curbing its carbon emissions, was showing "helpful signs".
"Anyone who has followed the debate about climate in the United States over the last year or two can't fail to have seen a very dramatic shift towards a much more engaged position," said the first official.
He noted that U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Hagel had tabled a bill in Washington to examine the security implications for the United States of climate change.
The timing of the U.N. debate is also strategically useful, British officials say, coming a month after EU leaders agreed a bold long-term strategy for energy policy and climate change.
It will be followed in June by a G8 meeting chaired by Germany where climate change will once again be a top issue. That meeting will also be attended by the five large emerging economies -- China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil.