Steinmeier: climate change growing threat to peace

BERLIN (Reuters) - Climate change is a growing threat to world peace and has led to rival territorial claims in the Arctic that could turn into a Cold War, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Dutch Queen Beatrix (R) pose for photographers in front of the foreign ministry in Berlin September 24, 2007. Climate change is a growing threat to world peace and has led to rival territorial claims in the Arctic that could turn into a Cold War, Steinmeier said on Tuesday.. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Political solutions are needed now to problems posed by climate change that threaten peace in areas ranging from Africa to the Middle East and even the Arctic, Steinmeier told a conference on climate change.

“There’s a ‘Cold War’ at the North Pole that we have to prevent,” he said. “Climate change is a threat to worldwide peace and security.

“Policies to fight climate change can, and will, become an important part of peace policies. We have to be aware of it and look for solutions...” he added.

“Climate change is not a far-away problem,” Steinmeier said. “It’s dramatic and our window to act is even smaller than we thought just a few years ago. We need more courage and more creativity, not just in technology but also politically.”


He noted with concern that a Russian submarine had planted a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole in August, staking a claim to the potentially energy-rich area. Denmark also claims part of the Arctic through its Greenland province.

“Not only Russia but other neighboring nations have also staked claims for fossil fuels in this region,” Steinmeier said. “The eternal ice is melting before our eyes. Climate change has made exploitation possible where it was thought not possible.”

Global warming has been melting the polar icecaps and governments now believe it is only a matter of time before they will be able to start exploiting the previously inaccessible seabed below the Arctic ice.

International law states that the five nations which control a coastline in the Arctic -- Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark via Greenland -- have a 320 km (200 mile) economic zone north of their shore.

But Russia, which has grown rich in the last decade from oil and gas revenues, claims a far larger slice because it says the Arctic and Siberia are linked via the Lomonosov Ridge.

“We have to make sure that Arctic treaties are respected and upheld, according to international law,” said Steinmeier, who visited the Arctic region in August.

The U.N. University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn has warned that droughts, floods and rising seas linked to global warming could spur future conflicts.

It said the poor in tropical regions of Africa and Asia are likely to suffer most, perhaps creating tension with rich nations in the temperate north which are likely to escape the worst effects of warming, widely blamed on use of fossil fuels.

Desertification and land degradation could force hundreds of millions from their homes. Rising seas caused by melting ice and glaciers could swamp large tracts of land, forcing migration and raising the chance of conflict over shrinking land.