UN hears climate change is ‘security threat’

Climate change threatens world peace, the foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said this week, as politicians have been considering how carbon offsetting could stem climate change.

Ms Beckett led a UN Security Council debate on climate change, insisting that it has become a security threat.

Some countries had argued it was a matter for the General Council only, but Ms Beckett claimed it has progressed from an issue of energy and the environment to a “security imperative”.

“What makes wars start? Fights over water; changing patterns of rainfall; fights over food production; land use,” she said.

“There are few greater potential threats to our economies, too, but also to peace and security itself.”

Britain, which currently holds the Security Council presidency, pushed the issue onto the agenda. Ms Beckett described Tuesday’s debate as a “groundbreaking day in the history of the security council.”

Meanwhile, the climate change minister Ian Pearson has been considering the role carbon offsetting can play in addressing climate change and concluded it can never be the only solution.

Central to any policy on climate change must be a plan to reduce emissions, the minister argued, writing exclusively for politics.co.uk, including measures to save energy and promote public transport.

However, carbon offsetting can play a role when emissions cannot be avoided, he argued: “People are not going to simply stop flying, or driving, or using electronic goods, and that’s where offsetting has a role to play”.

Reduction and offsetting should be made to complement each other, he added, rather than viewed as competing strategies

Nevertheless, the liberal democrats’ environment spokesmen Chris Huhne countered that reduction must be central to any policy on climate change.

Writing for politics.co.uk, he remarked that carbon offsetting has become a boom industry but must be seen to work, rather than just clear someone’s environmental conscious.

“Offsetting has become fashionable amongst the carbon conscious, but its usefulness as a weapon against climate change is questionable,” said Mr Huhne.

He agreed with Mr Pearson that businesses will offset when they cannot make reductions. However, assurances must be made that the practice will work, and for this reason Mr Huhne welcomed the government’s planned code of best practice.

The Green party’s principal speaker Dr Derek Wall warned, however, that carbon offsetting can only ever have a very limited role and was sceptical about how a scheme would work in practice.

Reducing emissions must remain central to any policy, but Dr Wall argued structures will need to change to enable this. For example, public transport and local services must be improved so people can “realistically reduce their energy consumption with the least pain.”

The Green party have also raised concerns that indigenous people in developing countries are abused to pave way for tree planting schemes.

Similarly, it argues for a joined up approach, with an emphasis on protecting existing carbon sinks. For example, in West Papua thousands of acres rainforest have been logged to make way for palm oil plantations.