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UK?s Beckett stresses climate security

Disruptions caused by climate change will affect foreign policy, the British Foreign Secy tells Chaitanya Kalbag.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 04:54 IST

Climate change is of major strategic importance, and disruptions caused by unprecedented climate change will exacerbate problems in foreign policy, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.

"(Climate change) is important for everyone. We believe that it will affect every country in the world; not in the same way but in a vast number of cases, to the disadvantage of most countries," said Beckett.

"Certainly we will need substantial changes to prevent pressures on migration, pressures on resources of the kind that in most of human history have led to conflict of one kind or another."

Beckett, a metallurgist by training, became Britain's first woman foreign minister in May 2006. She began a six-day trip to India on Thursday and will be discussing climate change, development, and counter-terrorism in New Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

Climate change and conflict

Beckett noted that one of the triggers of the tragedy in Darfur, in Sudan, was the changing pattern of rainfall. Several hundred thousand people have been killed and about 2.5 million people have fled their homes in the three-and-a-half-year conflict in Darfur that aid officials describe as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

"What we must try and do is to find ways of dealing with these issues to try to prevent them from being sources of conflict. That will not be easy."

Beckett said her appointment signalled a clear desire by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to make climate change one of the main strategic planks of his foreign policy.

On Tuesday, Sir Nicholas Stern, who heads the UK Government Economic Service and is a former World Bank chief economist, released what was described as the "most comprehensive review ever carried out" on the economics of climate change.

"There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally," Sir Nicholas said. "But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory."

Beckett herself told the Council of Foreign Relations in New York in a strong September speech: "It is now — literally — only one or two fringe scientists, and a rather larger number of paid propagandists, who still try to deny that climate is changing as a result of human behaviour."

She told this newspaper that the Stern report was explicit about the costs of not tackling climate change. "If we are able to move into a new type of low-carbon economy there will be industry and the employment opportunities that it can create."

She said Britain had sought to use its presidency of the Group of Eight and the European Union "very much to highlight these matters and we are urging our German colleagues, who are taking over the presidency in January, to do the same".

Time is running out

Beckett said for a long time the conversation was of the order that climate change would be a real problem for our grandchildren.

"And gradually as our understanding grew, it became a problem for your children and your grandchildren. And now we are realising that if the signs are even remotely right, it is important for us in two ways — first because of the impact we are already beginning to feel, and second because if the scientists are remotely right we have only got somewhere like 10 to 15 years to actually make the kind of changes that prevent catastrophic climate change."

Referring to the retreat of glaciers around the world, and the shrinking
polar ice caps, Beckett said one of the issues for India was what happened to melt-water in the Himalayas and what impact that would have on hydroelectricity.

Bilateral ties

Beckett met earlier on Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who referred to the strong values shared by the two countries.

Beckett said in addition to a workshop on mass-transit counter-terrorism, which will look at lessons learned from the London subway bombings of July 2005 and the Mumbai commuter-train blasts a year later, there was much sharing of information and ideas and experience.

The two sides are also discussing security at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and the London Olympics in 2012. "Again, there will be a shared experience and shared understanding on the practical aspects…so it is really concrete."

On the changing relationship with India, Beckett said Britain strongly supports reform of the United Nations and "we would like to see India on the Security Council; we believe that will be well-merited".

She noted that the Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom makes up about two percent of the population and produces about five percent of its GDP. "So a huge contribution is being made to the economic well-being as well as to the cultural well-being and the social well-being of the United Kingdom."

Beckett also noted that India was the second-largest investor in the UK in the first half of this year — "and that was before Corus". Tata Steel acquired Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus last month for $ 7.6 billion, creating the world's fifth largest steel company.

Asked to comment on the fact that 60 per cent of India's investment in Europe went to Britain, and a perception that India was too UK-centric in its European investment decisions, Beckett said, "I think we are very pleased to have it that way and long may it remain that way."

Email Chaitanya Kalbag: ckalbag@gmail.com