I'm listening to the UN Security Council climate change debate via live webcast. I haven't followed the whole thing, but most speakers are saying the same thing: Climate change should not been seen as an environmental alone. It's a security issue, it's an economic issue, it's a sustainable development issue.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General just started his speech with, "Throughout history, people have fought over natural resources". His theme, that sustainability and conflict prevention (peace) are inevitably linked, is the same message we've heard from the US military.
Yesterday, a group of 11 retired senior US generals released a report saying climate change, "presents significant national security challenges to the United States", and is a danger the US must address. From the Washington Post:
The study states that conflicts in regions such as Darfur and Somalia stemmed initially from a lack of resources, something that will only worsen with global warming.
Climate change is different from traditional military threats, according to report author Vice Adm. Richard H. Truly, because it's not like "some hot spot we're trying to handle."
"It's going to happen to every country and every person in the whole world at the same time," Truly said.
Back at the UN, there is debate about whether the Security Council or another UN forum is the best for addressing climate change. But there is total agreement that existing international agreements vital and should be respected. The Kyoto Protocol (which the US and Australia have still not signed) and the UNFCC are coming up a lot.
Also yesterday, in a speech remembering Winston Churchill, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett compared climate change to both to World War II and the Cold War:
But in the end it was his [Churchill's] foresight and his determination to prepare for a threat which – to many – was still seemingly distant and uncertain that in the end guaranteed the liberty and survival of my country and that of many others.
Today politicians and business leaders once again face an increasing danger to our security and prosperity, and growing calls for early and resolute measures. Climate change is the gathering storm of our generation. And the implications – should we fail to act – could be no less dire.
But while there are parallels between those two situations there are also crucial differences. For a start, whereas Churchill's cause during the 1930s was one of rearmament – more guns, more planes and, in particular, more ships – we are not going to be able to ensure climate security through the exercise of hard power. An unstable climate is a direct threat to our security: but it is not one that can be met by bullets and bombs. Diplomacy failed in the late 1930s and force of arms took over – in this battle there is no backstop to diplomacy.
And what are the steps we can take now? She talked about setting concrete CO2 reduction commitments and investing aggressively in new technology, and she said:
This is change that Europeans are going to see and feel. One of the elements that the press picked up on was the phasing out of old style filament light-bulbs. From 2009, you won't be able to buy them in European shops.
For more on global warming and security read our feature story, "Weather of Mass Destruction".