U.N. Security Council Debates Climate Change

The U.N. Security Council is about to consider global climate change for the first time. Britain, which now holds the council's rotating presidency, has taken a leadership role on the issue.

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The United Nations Security Council usually wrestles with issues like nuclear weapons and bloody regional conflicts. Today for the first time it will take on global climate change. The British government has convinced the body to consider global warming as a threat to the world's security.

NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS: Britain currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council, so its diplomats have ceased on the chance to bring up one of Britain's biggest issues - climate change. U.K. climate ambassador John Ashton argues that global warming needs the same kind of attention that the Security Council used to devote to the Cold War.

Mr. JOHN ASHTON (U.K. Climate Ambassador): We need the same kind of effort to transform the global economy from a high carbon economy, which is the source of this problem, very rapidly to a low carbon economy. And the debate in the Security Council is really the first step in our efforts to open up this new flank on the issue.

HARRIS: At a news briefing yesterday, Ashton noted that a decade ago, the issue of AIDS finally got traction globally after the United States brought that issue to a reluctant U.N. Security Council.

Mr. ASHTON: People working nowadays on HIV look back on that debate as a turning point in the international conversation. They say that that was when the world really got serious about HIV. I don't know whether we can have quite that impact in this case. But we certainly want to use it to add political impetus.

HARRIS: Ashton argues that climate is already a security issue. He says the deadly conflict in Darfur is at least partly the result of an extended drought there, which has led to fighting between farmers and cattle grazers. Former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth says climate change can't simply be left to environment ministers.

Mr. TIM WIRTH (Former U.S. Senator): It must engage finance ministers. It must engage defense ministers, and it must engage heads of state. And that's why the beginnings of the debate at the Security Council is so terribly important.

HARRIS: The council won't make any decisions today, but dozens of diplomats have asked to speak up on the issue.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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