The UN Security Council held a groundbreaking debate on Tuesday on the impact of climate change on conflicts, brushing aside objections from developing countries that global warming is not an issue of international peace and security.
Britain holds the council presidency this month and organized an open meeting to highlight what its foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said was the "security imperative" to tackle climate change because it can exacerbate problems that cause conflicts and threatens the entire planet.
"The Security Council is the forum to discuss issues that threaten the peace and security of the international community. What makes wars start? Fights over water. Changing patterns of rainfall. Fights over food production, land use," Beckett said. "There are few greater potential threats to our economies too ... but also to peace and security itself."
The two main groups representing developing countries -- the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 -- wrote separate letters accusing the Security Council of "ever-increasing encroachment" on the role and responsibility of other UN organs.
Climate change and energy are issues for the General Assembly, where all 192 UN member states are represented, and the Economic and Social Council, not the Security Council, they said.
Pakistan's Deputy Ambassador Farukh Amil, whose country heads the Group of 77 which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, told the council on Tuesday that its debate not only "infringes" on the authority of other UN organs but "compromises the rights of the general membership of the United Nations."
Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin also said the climate change issue did not belong in the Security Council while acting US ambassador Alejandro Wolff sidestepped the issue, citing instead US programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment.
"The most effective way to bolster security and stability is to increase the capacity of states to govern effectively," Wolff said. "States that can govern effectively can anticipate and manage change."
Beckett said she understood the reservations.
"I'm the last person to want to undermine the important work that those bodies do," she said, "but this is an issue that threatens the peace and security of the whole planet, and the Security Council has to be the right place to debate it, and clearly if 52 countries wish to speak, that isn't just a view held by the United Kingdom."
By the time the daylong meeting ended early on Tuesday evening, a total of 55 countries spoke, including three late additions. The council did not adopt any statement or resolution.
Beckett said Britain was following the precedent of the first Security Council debate on another very important global issue -- HIV/AIDS in 2000.
"We want to see the same thing happen with climate change, that it comes from the fringes into the mainstream," she said.
Over the past few years, she said, the threat from climate change has grown and its impact goes far beyond the environment "to the very heart of the security agenda."
She cited flooding, disease and famine leading to unprecedented migration; drought and crop failure intensifying competition for food, water and energy; and the potential for economic disruption on a scale not seen since World War II.