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(photo credit: AP)
For the first time in its history, the UN Security Council addressed the threat of global warming and climate change to global security on Tuesday.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that projected global warming could deepen tensions and conflict worldwide. The problem demands the resources of civil society and the private sector, he added, acknowledging that the Security Council has a role to play.
The meeting came at the initiative of the United Kingdom, which currently holds the Security Council presidency.
"Our responsibility on the Council is to maintain international peace and security," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in her opening remarks.
Beckett was responding to the concerns of some countries, including Russia and China, which questioned whether the issue of climate changes belonged in the Security Council, and which expressed the fear that the Security Council was encroaching on the jurisdiction of other UN bodies.
"We are not seeking to preempt institutions where actions are decided, like the General Assembly," Beckett said.
Britain made its case in a "concept paper," distributed to UN members on April 5, which suggested that large parts of the world were at risk due to rising sea levels, a shortage of fresh water and arable land.
According to the paper, some estimates suggest up to 200 million people may be displaced as a result of migration from rural areas to cities and across international borders, resulting in "the potential for instability and conflict."
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is in the process of releasing its fourth report on global warming in 16 years. Thus far, two sections of the report project dire effects of rising sea levels, storms, water shortages and lower crop production over the coming century.
Representatives from a long list of member nations spoke to the increased threats of climate change and global warming, especially to developing countries, including an expected increase in competition for scarce energy resources.
"The impacts are so large, and cover potentially billions of people, and therefore must involve the highest level of international government such as the Security Council," said John Coequyt, an energy policy specialist at Greenpeace.
Though not a solution, Tuesday's meeting is a sign that the issue of climate control has become more of a priority, he said.
"What needs to happen now is that heads of state need to inform their delegations to Kyoto," said Coequyt.
Currently, governments are negotiating the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which begins in 2013. Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases.
"We need the developed-world countries to come together to decide what to do, and expand the participation to other countries," said Coequyt. "Only through debate at this level can we get the commitments we need to move this process forward."
The United States is not party to the Kyoto Protocol.
The Security Council meeting followed a briefing released last week, specific to the impact of global warming on the Middle East.
"Climate change will make it difficult for countries in the Middle East to satisfy their water needs, due to decreased rain, rising temperatures and increased demand for water," according to Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).
They claim decreased precipitation is expected in Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and even Lebanon, which was previously not considered a water poor country.
There is concern that Egypt could lose 12-15 percent of the agricultural lands in the Nile Delta, along with residential areas and economic centers, due to flooding.
"Climate changes are of concern not only from an environmental viewpoint, or in regard to regional water supply," said Munqeth Mehyar, Jordanian chair of FoEME. "The social ramifications of climate change in countries of the Middle East are likely to politically destablilize the region, by causing waves of environmental refugees from countries including Egypt, as happened to the tragic case of Darfur, Sudan. The expected damage to the economic base and to the residential areas of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East could lead to grave political implications."
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