LONDON A string of Arab uprisings are giving a foretaste of the likely havoc that climate change will cause without greater effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a British foreign ministry official warned.
Soaring food prices, stoked by Russia's drought last year and subsequent ban on wheat exports, were an additional trigger in the popular revolts across North Africa and the Middle East mostly blamed on public frustration with autocratic rule.
"Treat this as a 'prequel', because if we can't remove some of those upward pressures on resource stresses then crises that are difficult to deal with when they happen will become more likely," said John Ashton, special representative for climate change at Britain's foreign ministry.
"How these things are going to rattle around the world and where they're going to hit you is inherently unpredictable," he told Reuters in an interview, using the example of food riots in Mozambique after the Russian wheat export ban.
Tackling climate change by finding low-carbon, energy alternatives to expensive fossil fuels was central to easing energy, water and food security fears, he said in the interview on Monday, pointing to crop failures in Bolivia and oil prices which have passed $100 a barrel.
Ashton was speaking after giving a lecture in London where he blamed diplomats for putting international climate talks ahead of efforts to convince their own peoples of the risk posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions.
"Most foreign policy elites have yet to embrace and act on this. It would not be harsh to call that a failure of diplomacy," he said.
Public support was essential for governments to agree new legally-binding emissions cuts, he said, to replace those in the first round of the existing Kyoto Protocol which ends in 2012.
Countries should set voluntary curbs on emissions for now, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said on Monday in South Africa, arguing that agreement on binding curbs this year was out of reach.
A Libyan uprising follows revolts which toppled the long-time rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and threatened entrenched dynasties including Bahrain.
(Reporting by Gerard Wynn, Editing by David Stamp)