UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 (IPS) - The United Nations Security Council failed to reach agreement on a non-binding statement Wednesday asserting that climate change should be recognised as an international peace and security issue.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had called the meeting "essential" to raise political awareness and fast-track adaptation and mitigation measures.
"Competition between communities and countries for scarce resources - especially water - is increasing, exacerbating old security dilemmas and creating new ones...These are all threats to human security, as well as to international peace and security," Ban said.
Small island states in the Pacific have been urging the Security Council to act for years, as sea levels rise and the "existential" threat to their nations and cultures becomes increasingly imminent.
Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times Monday that, "The Security Council should join the General Assembly in recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism."
Stephen suggested that a special representative on climate and security be appointed and then, as a final step, the United Nations system should be assessed to see whether it is capable of responding to a crisis of that magnitude.
Néstor Osorio, Colombia's U.N. ambassador, admitted that even if responses to minimise the effects of climate change are not within the mandate of the Security Council, "We believe that we are called to play a role in conflict cases that are exacerbated by the effects of climate change."
But not every country agrees with that proposition.
China stated that its position had not changed and expressed its opposition to the Security Council making decisions about climate change, since, as Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative Wang Min told Inner City Press, there are already "blue" or empty seats at the General Assembly as it loses power.
Maged A. Abdelaziz, Egypt's ambassador and chair of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, told the Security Council that it should not interfere on issues like climate change, even though the situation is "severe" and "urgent".
"The Movement also stresses that climate change and its adverse impacts must be addressed from the perspective of sustainable development, promoting a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of the problem," Abdelaziz said.
This, according to him, can only happen through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Commission on Sustainable Development.
"The Movement stresses the importance of fulfilling the international commitments under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol...Therefore, this debate should not result in any form of outcome that undermines the authority of the relevant bodies," he concluded.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Pankin, the country's deputy permanent representative to the U.N., also said that involving the Security Council in the debate could lead to "increased politicisation" of the issue.
However, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice complained that the council's failure to approve a presidential statement is "pathetic, it's shortsighted and quite frankly, it's a dereliction of duty."
The debate took place the same day the United Nations declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia.
With millions of people around the world in danger of running out of water or food as a result of droughts or floods caused by climate change, the stability of those places is at stake.
"We are looking at massive migration issues, water issues, food scarcity issues...and if you put them in geographic regions that are already unstable, the situation becomes unbearable," Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Washington-based Association of Climate Change Officers, told IPS.
Kreeger cited the current tensions among India, China and Pakistan, three nuclear-armed states which are currently fighting over water supplies.
"Those are clearly international security issues and something that the Security Council should be looking very seriously at," he said.
Since the secretary-general issued a report to the General Assembly on climate change in 2009, the international community has reached certain agreements in Copenhagen and Cancún.
"These agreements provide an important, but incomplete, foundation for action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enabling all countries to adapt," Ban said.
He added that the next UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Durban this December must be decisive: "Minimalist steps will not do."
Wednesday's debate was the second attempt by the Security Council to consider climate change and peacekeeping, the first taking place in 2007.
"The heating of the planet, caused by pollution from oil and coal, is driving social, political, economic and ecological change, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and impairing food production around the globe," said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, in a statement.
"These impacts will have important implications for security in many regions of the world, and it is significant that they are recognised at the highest level of international affairs," he said. "National governments must now consider how best to respond in their own self- interest – in economic and security terms as well as environmental ones."
*More from OneWorld