Drought, floods and rising sea levels linked to climate change could start wars around the world, Margaret Beckett will predict today.

In the first UN Security Council debate on global warming, the Foreign Secretary will highlight tensions which are likely to emerge as countries compete for scarce food, water and energy resources.

But some member countries question whether the issue belongs in the Security Council, which deals with threats to international peace and security.

Russia and China have already said the council is the wrong place for the debate, and many developing nations see global warming as a problem of global justice, rather than just a security threat.

Ministers from some countries likely to be affected which are not on the 15-member council, are expected to attend the debate.

They include the Maldives, one of the 37 small island states that risks disappearing under the sea.

In a speech yesterday, Mrs Beckett stressed the importance of the role of business in moving to a low-carbon economy and warned of the security dangers that could result from inaction.

She told BritishAmerican Business Inc., a trans-Atlantic business organization: "The implications of climate change for our security are more fundamental and more comprehensive than any single conflict."

"The resources available to us are already stretched and they're under immense and growing strain and an unstable climate threatens to exacerbate all of these existing tensions."

Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, made its case in a paper distributed to members earlier this month.

It says that large parts of the world risk becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels, a shortage of fresh water and land suitable for agriculture.

Warning of "major changes to the world's physical landmass during this century" it says areas of concern include "the possible submergence of entire small island states, [and] dramatically receding coastlines".

The potential for instability and conflict will be increased as a result of migration from rural areas to cities and across international borders, it says. "Some estimates suggest up to 200 million people may be displaced by the middle of the century," it adds.

Conflicts may develop over "scarce energy resources, security of supply and the role energy resources play once conflict has broken out", the paper says.

On the eve of the debate, experts appeared to back up the claims in the document and cited climate change as a huge security issue.

Janos Bogardi, head of the UN University's Institute for Environment and human Security in Bonn told Reuters: "The most imminent effect is probably desertification and land degradation."

He cited the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan as "probably the most prominent example" of a conflict partly caused by land degradation.

"Climate change has the potential to be a huge security issue", said Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University.

But he added that disputes over oil were now more likely to cause war than climate change.