Weather of Mass Destruction

Feature story - April 16, 2007
WMD are a constant topic on the agenda of the United Nations, but now the Security Council members will have to ask, "Which W is it: weather or weapons?"

Global warming: weather of mass destruction

The UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently produced an ominous warning of massive changes in food production zones; billions of people threatened by reduced water supplies; hundreds of millions more threatened by rising sea levels; and mass migrations as hundreds of millions become climate refugees.

In light of this, climate change is now officially being recognised by the UN as a security issue and a cause of conflict, and has been placed on the agenda of the Security Council.

The Security Council's mandate is to "to promote the establishment and maintenance of internationalpeace and security with the least diversion of the world's human andeconomic resources for armaments..."  That's a  clear set of marching orders to tackle global warming now for what it is: a threat to the "sustainable security" of the planet.

Poverty, environmental disaster, and war

In the ground-breaking report of The World Commission on Environment and Development of 1987, Our Common Future, Gro Halrem Brundtland wrote: "A world in which poverty is endemic will always be prone to environmental disaster."

But it's time to turn that on its head: "a world in which environmental disaster is endemic will always be prone to poverty and war."

So how will the debate evolve? Will the climate 'nay sayers' and intransigents face sanctions under the Security Council's mandate to "call on [UN] Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop an aggression." Will the Security Council learn from its recent mistakes, such as Rwanda and Darfur, and take action before millions of lives are lost?

The climate of war

A host of ex-generals, including the former Army Chief of Staff and US President Bush's former chief Middle East peace negotiators, have now added their voices to the growing chorus of concern over climate-change-induced conflict.

"We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or, we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll," warned ex-marine Corps General Anthony C Zinni, former commander, US forces, in the Middle East.

Like never before, green issues and peace issues are rising together and have to be tackled together.

George W Bush once famously said "the American lifestyle is not open to negotiation." This misses the point, you can't negotiate with climate change or, as Hurricante Katrina showed, extreme weather events.

Although the G77 has expressed concern that the Security Council is not the proper place to discuss climate, there is no question that the proliferation of Weather of Mass Destruction is a worthy topic for the Security Council. Its appearance on the Council's agenda represents a coming of age and recognition that failure to act now could see UN peace keepers patrolling the climate change front line for centuries to come.

You can't nuke a hurricane

The Security Council Climate debate will be chaired by the UK foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett. Beckett could use the opportunity to take a real leadership role and announce a reversal of the British Government's recent decision to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. She could tell the council that the GBP75 billion currently earmarked for keeping the UK a nuclear weapons power for another half century will instead be invested in real security by cutting the country's carbon emissions.

A recent Greenpeace report showed that redeploying the trident war chest into renewables and energy efficiency could cut the UK's CO2 emissions by 14 percent. In one swift move she could help build confidence in the struggle to curtail both WMD threats.

Becket could begin the process of redirecting some of the US$ 1.3 trillion annual global military spending - which is now greater than the highest level during the cold war - into combating the 'warm war', into averting conflict rather than trying to control it.

In our recently published report, "Energy [r]evolution," we've shown that with proper investment in renewable energy along with energy efficiency, our world can achieve a 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050: all at a fraction of annual global military outlay.

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