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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Climate and the UN: A new bid for control?
Felix Dodds and Richard Sherman

At a recent United Nations debate, the UK argued that the Security Council should take a central role in responding to climate change. But, ask Felix Dodds and Richard Sherman in this week's Green Room, is this yet another way for rich nations to protect their own borders and interests?

This UN debate on energy, security and climate... can definitely be seen as a historic event

While governments are preoccupied with negotiations on future international action when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period expires in 2012, a more recent debate held in the UN Security Council elevated the climate struggle to a new level.

Central were the weighty questions: is climate change a threat to international peace and security, and, if so, does the Security Council have a role to play in generating intergovernmental consensus on a global response?

This UN debate on energy, security and climate, which took place on 17 April, can definitely be seen as a historic event - and might, by some, even be seen as an evolutionary step in the climate debate.

However, it also highlighted the continued polarisation surrounding climate change that exists between member states, and failed to conclude with a consensus on climate insecurity.

One view, pronounced by the UK's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, supported by EU colleagues, was that the Security Council's mandate to address issues that threaten the international peace and security was indeed broad enough to encompass the impacts of climate change.

"What makes wars start?" she asked.

Fights over water, changing patterns of rainfall, fights over food production, land use...There are few greater potential threats to our economies too...but also to peace and security itself."

Political divides

However, developing countries strongly objected to the Security Council playing a role in climate change compliance and scrutiny.

And the debate, coming at a time when tensions between industrialised and developing countries over the encroachment of the unrepresentative Security Council over the more democratic and representative UN General Assembly, may in fact exacerbate the political divide between rich and poor.

For many developing countries, the decision by the UK presidency of the Security Council to hold a debate on climate and energy security held undertones of an inequitable response by the industrialised nations, such as the US and other global powers, most responsible for climate change.

Margaret Beckett at the UN debate
Many disagreed with Margaret Beckett

They argued that perhaps the rich and powerful were seeking to protect their own interests by utilising an undemocratic process to address a global problem in which the majority of the world's citizens are innocent bystanders.

Farukh Amil, the deputy permanent representative for Pakistan and chair of the group of 77 developing countries, made some powerful arguments against the inclusion of climate change in the Security Council.

While recognising the importance of the issues for the achievement of sustainable development, developing countries felt the responsibilities to address the climate and security nexus were the responsibility of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

Mr Amil argued that climate change already has a binding multilateral agreement, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as the Kyoto Protocol.

"No role was envisaged for the Security Council," he said.

New paradigm

Stakeholders and climate activists were equally divided.

The conservation group WWF called on the Security Council to initiate a global cooperative energy and climate strategy. Other NGOs, including our organisation Stakeholder Forum, opposed the issue being discussed at the Security Council.

We argued that it was wrong as it excluded over 180 countries; and of the council's permanent five members, four are developed countries which one might consider to be interested in securing their energy and climate requirements.

UN climate debate
The question is not whether climate change is a threat to international peace and security, but more about how and where the world should have a discussion on how to address these issues

The Security Council also excludes the input of stakeholders who bring to the table experiences at the local level and case studies of what works and doesn't.

There is no question that we are starting to discuss a new paradigm of human and environmental security of which climate and energy security is an important part - but not the only part.

Health epidemics, post-conflict reconstruction, nuclear weapons, migration, population growth, unsustainable consumption, poverty and trade are all also part of the discussion we need to look at through this new lens.

The question is not whether climate change is a threat to international peace and security, but more about how and where the world should have a discussion on addressing these issues creatively.

There are already good examples of how to create global conversations: the Earth Summit processes of the 1990s are one. In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, the Earth Summit looked at the interface between environment and development; and in 2002, the Johannesburg Earth Summit looked at sustainable development.

We are now seeing the emergence of this new paradigm because developed governments have not delivered on their Rio and Johannesburg commitments. Not because the conversation was wrong about what needed to be done - it just wasn't delivered.

By 2012, 20 years from Rio, we need another Earth Summit this time on human and environmental security. If we don't, then the agenda of sustainable development will be dictated by the security concerns bringing major impacts on our lives and our democracies.

Felix Dodds is executive director of Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future

Richard Sherman is a South African Advisor to Stakeholder Forum on issues of global governance

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

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