UNITED NATIONS Western nations clashed with Russia and developing countries on Wednesday over whether climate change was a security matter meriting the attention of the Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body.
Diplomats said Russia initially blocked the adoption of a statement on the issue by the 15-nation council, but later agreed to a revised, weakly worded text that spoke of the "possible security implications" of climate change.
The dispute came as the council formally debated the environment for the first time in four years and followed dire warnings by a senior U.N. official that global warming was speeding up, with unpredictable consequences.
In the debate called by Germany, this month's council president, Western speakers said increasing aridity caused by climate change had contributed to conflicts in Sudan's Darfur region and in Somalia, where the United Nations said famine had hit two areas.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington strongly believed the council "has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate," and should "start now."
Speaking while negotiations on the statement were still deadlocked, Rice charged that the message of the council's silence to countries threatened by climate-induced disasters would be "in effect, 'Tough luck.'"
"This is more than disappointing. It's pathetic. It's shortsighted, and frankly it's a dereliction of duty."
But Russian envoy Alexander Pankin said Moscow was "skeptical" about attempts to put the implications of climate change on the council's agenda, which is defined as dealing with threats to international peace and security.
"We believe that involving the Security Council in a regular review of the issue of climate change will not bring any added value whatsoever and will merely lead to further increased politicization of this issue and increased disagreements between countries," he said.
Western diplomats said Russia's statement reflected long-standing concerns about Security Council agenda "creep."
Temporary council members India and Brazil also said they doubted whether the body should be involved. Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said the council "does not have the wherewithal to address the situation."
Developing countries railed against what they said was an attempt by the big-power club to muscle in on the territory of the 193-nation General Assembly and U.N. agencies specifically devoted to climate change.
But President Marcus Stephen of Nauru, one of several small Pacific island states threatened by rising sea levels blamed on climate change, called on the council to request appointment of a U.N. special envoy for climate and security.
The statement eventually agreed did not take up that proposal but expressed "concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security."
It also asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include information on possible climate change impacts in his regular reports on world troublespots.
Western diplomats said the fact that any statement was agreed was an advance on the last council debate on the issue in 2007. "This was a good day today for climate security," German Ambassador Peter Wittig told reporters.
Earlier, Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, said climate change was advancing faster than attempts to contain it through slow-moving U.N.-led negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions targets and other measures.
He quoted projections that some parts of the world would see 5.4 to 7.2 degree Fahrenheit (3 or 4 degree Celsius) temperature rises this century while negotiators seek to set a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degree Celsius) target; that sea levels could rise by 3 feet (1 meter) this century; and that natural disasters could "increase exponentially."
"The world is confronted with a global warming scenario that is already well beyond where we believe we might be able to manage these changes and trends if we will be able to conclude our negotiations," Steiner told the council.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)