Nauru’s president, speaking for small island nations threatened with extinction by rising sea levels caused by climate change, asked the United Nations Security Council today for help.
A divided council couldn’t agree on the linkage between climate change and threats to peace and security and took no action.
“It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, and it carries the potential to destabilize governments and ignite conflict,” President Marcus Stephen told the Security Council. “I urge you: Do not bury your heads in the sand. Seize this opportunity to lead.”
Russia led the opposition to U.S. and European efforts to get the council involved. Germany, which organized the meeting in its role as president of the Security Council this month, settled for a statement expressing concern that “possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats” to peace and security.
Stephen, speaking on behalf of Pacific Island nations Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu, said they were “deeply disappointed.”
“Let history report that again we have sounded the alarm and the world chose not to act,” he said.
The meeting in New York came as the UN declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia resulting from drought and conflict that have left 3.7 million people, almost half the country’s population, in need of humanitarian aid.
Security Council members Russia, China, India, South Africa were among nations that questioned the immediacy of the threat posed by climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the forum for negotiations on a global agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, should deal with the issue, they said.
Industrialized and developing nations remain at odds over how to limit carbon emissions after 2012, when the commitments of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expire. Egypt’s Ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, speaking for the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement, said industrialized nations have a “historic and particular responsibility” to reduce emissions and help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Russia’s Deputy Ambassador, Alexander Pankin, referred in his remarks to the Security Council to the “hypothetical nature” of the threat and “lack of empirical evidence” linking carbon emissions to droughts, rising sea levels and other extreme weather patterns.
Higher temperatures are expected to raise sea levels by expanding the ocean water volume, accelerating the melting of mountain glaciers, and causing portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to melt or slide into the ocean, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in 2007 that global average sea level will rise by 7.2 to 23.6 inches by the year 2100.
Stephen asked the Security Council to seek the appointment by Ban of a special representative on climate and security to analyze the security ramifications, and a system-wide UN assessment of the world body’s capability to respond. He called the requests the “absolute minimum required to move the international community from a culture of reaction to one of preparedness.”
The meeting opened with Ban, who has made the pursuit of a global climate agreement a priority of his tenure as UN chief, saying there is a clear link between climate change and security. He urged the Security Council to “mobilize national and international action to confront the very real threat.”
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environmental Program, told the Security Council that 42 million people were driven from their homes last year by natural disasters, 90 percent of which were weather-related. The “scale and number of these disasters will increase exponentially,” he said.
“The latest science that is being published by scientific institutions across the planet is in many respects overtaking the rather conservative scenarios and predictions and models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brought to our attention four years ago,” said Steiner.
“Whether you look at the linear warming trend over the last 50 years, an average of 0.13 degrees warming per decade that is nearly twice the temperature increases we saw over the last 100 years; whether we look at the increases in extreme weather events and storms and cyclones; whether we look at the thermal expansion of the oceans; whether we look also at the melting of the arctic summer ice, all these are not speculative data about the fact that a changing climate is a reality,” he said. “These are proven trends.”