The declaration means UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will take global warming matters into account in his reports in the future. Although this in itself does not mean that specific action will be taken, it will give global warming a far greater profile.
German diplomats said they had been patient and had worked hard to get all 15 members of the Security Council – the most powerful body in the UN – to sign up to the declaration.
“The Security Council is concerned that the loss of land of small island nations from a rise in sea levels could have security policy consequences,” says the statement.
Berlin had to overcome particular opposition from permanent Security Council members Russia and China to pass the initiative.
“It was important to us to get all the Security Council members on board – and we made considerable and generous compromises to secure that,” said Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the UN.
“Now it is up to the Secretary General to turn this call into practice,” he added.
“Let there be no doubt: we are not talking about a small number of people on a remote island having to give up their stretch of the beach,” he wrote in an editorial for the Huffington Post website.
“We are talking about sea level rises that might seriously impact the lives of millions of people who live close to the coast – and only a little higher than sea level. Densely populated mega-deltas of the Ganges, Nile, Mekong or Mississippi or big coastal cities such as Karachi, New York, Singapore or Tokyo come to mind – and remember that Fukushima isn’t the only (nuclear) power plant built next to the sea.”
He argued that UN peacekeepers already perform a number of tasks which are not so far removed from what will be needed to deal with the consequences of climate change, such as emergency aid, development and recovery, state – and peace-building.
Yet although action from the UN is not yet needed, he said it probably would be, and that the international community must prepare for this eventuality.
“The Council should, however, fulfil its duty and ready itself: It should not only act after the first tragedies hit the headlines. A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security,” he said.
But Wittig said the declaration should not be seen as an infringement on other international bodies dealing with climate change.
“On the contrary, it would emphasize that the Council is ready to assume its responsibilities to try to prevent the worst from happening,” he said.