The persistent inability of the United Nations to forge international consensus on climate change issues was on display Wednesday, as Security Council members disagreed over whether they should address possible instability provoked by problems like rising sea levels or competition over water resources.
Western powers like the United States argued that the potential effects of climate change, including the mass migrations of populations, made it a crucial issue in terms of global peace and security. Russia and China, backed by much of the developing world, rejected the notion that the issue even belonged on the Security Council agenda.
With the major powers again at loggerheads, President Marcus Stephen of Nauru traveled the nearly 8,000 miles from his tiny Pacific island state to plead for action.
Speaking on behalf of some 14 island states vulnerable to disappearing or at least losing significant territory to rising sea levels, Mr. Stephen mused aloud about how the debate might differ if larger countries were affected.
“What if the pollution coming from our island nations was threatening the very existence of the major emitters?” he said. “What would be the nature of today’s debate under those circumstances?”
Countries threatened with extinction — already some residents have experimented with emigrating as higher and higher tides endanger their livelihoods — are tired of merely hearing sympathy for their plight, the president said.
“Demonstrate it by formally recognizing that climate change is a threat to international peace and security,” Mr. Stephen said, comparing it to nuclear proliferation or terrorism given its potential to destabilize governments and create conflict. “Neither has ever led to the disappearance of an entire nation, though that is what we are confronted with today.”