Global warming must be top priority for UN, says Beckett

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Tackling climate change and averting the threat of rising sea levels, increased droughts and associated famines should become the greatest priority for the United Nations, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said yesterday.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Mrs Beckett said planetary warming "presents us with an ever-growing threat to international security" that one day might eclipse everything else the UN did.

"If we do not act now, an unstable climate will undermine our progress in all those other areas that matter to us," she said. "Nobody can protect themselves from climate change."

"Climate security," she added, went to the heart of the UN's mission and the United Nations "must be at the heart of the solution".

Last week she sought to sound the alarm on global warming at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where she said confronting the problem "is no longer a choice, it is an imperative". She said the largest responsibility lay with the richest nations.

The Foreign Secretary also issued a veiled rebuke to leaders who had used to the podium at the UN to trade insults. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, had used the podium to attack President George Bush.

Mentioning no names, Mrs Beckett said that the answers to the world's problems did "not lie in division or in personal attacks but in the earnest and consistent pursuit of justice and peace".