Three days ago, Oxfam released a 60-page briefing paper under the title: “Suffering the Science – Climate change, people, and poverty”. The report reveals that seasons which were once distinct are shifting, destroying harvests and causing widespread hunger – which is just one of many impacts taking their toll on the world’s poorest people.
The report’s release came ahead of the G8 Summit in Italy (which starts Wednesday) and the Major Economies Forum (Thursday). Combining the latest scientific observations on climate change with evidence from the communities Oxfam works with in almost 100 countries around the world, the report reveals how the burden of climate change is already hitting poor people hard.
The report warns that, without immediate action, 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost. It predicts that climate-related hunger could be the defining human tragedy of this century. Suffering the Science outlines evidence of how climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty and development today, including:
- Hunger: Rice and maize, two of the world’s most important crops on which hundreds of millions depend, particularly in Asia, the Americas and Africa, face significant drops in yields even under mild climate change scenarios. Maize yields are forecast to drop by 15 per cent or more by 2020, in much of sub-Saharan Africa and in most of India. One estimate puts the loss to Africa at US $2bn a year.
- Agriculture: New research based on interviews with farmers in 15 countries across the world reveals how once distinct seasons are shifting and rains are disappearing. Farmers from countries including Bangladesh, Uganda and Nicaragua, who are no longer able to rely on generations of farming experience, are facing failed harvest after failed harvest.
- Health: Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that were once geographically bound are creeping to new areas where populations lack immunity or the knowledge and healthcare infrastructure to cope with them. It is estimated that climate change has contributed to an average of 150,000 more deaths from disease per year since the 1970s, with over half of those happening in Asia. In Singapore, Bangkok and the cities of Indonesia, dengue fever rates have risen continually over the past 20 years.
- Disasters: Disasters including mega fires and storms are on the rise and could triple by 2030. Hurricanes and cyclones throughout the world in 2005 cost a record US $165 billion, and the insurance industry says that climate change will make the situation worse, particularly for poor people who have no access to insurance. Meanwhile, research shows that for every $1 spent on hazard reduction or disaster preparedness, an estimated $4 is saved.
- Water: Water supplies are becoming so acutely challenged that several cities including Kathmandu and La Paz, which are dependent on the Himalayan and Andes glaciers, may soon be unable to function.
- Displacement: An estimated 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change and each year a million more are displaced by weather related events. Island communities from Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Bay of Bengal have already been forced to move because of sea level rise.
- Labour: Rising temperatures will make it impossible for people to work at the same rate on hot summer days without serious health impacts, with huge ramifications for labourers paid by the hour and the wider economy. Tropical cities such as Delhi could see a drop in worker productivity of as much as 30 per cent.
A survey of top climate scientists, also published by Oxfam today, said poor people living in low-lying coastal areas, island atolls in the Pacific, mega deltas and farmers throughout the world, are most at risk from climate change because of flooding and prolonged drought. The scientists, all contributors to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), named South Asia and Africa as climate change hotspots.
Many scientists are now sceptical as to whether the world can limit global warming to 2°C because they do not believe politicians are willing to agree the necessary cuts in carbon emissions, the report says. Two degrees of warming is considered to be “economically acceptable” to rich countries, however whilst all countries, including Australia, would suffer, it would mean a devastating future for 660 million people throughout the developing world.
Professor Diana Liverman, a leading contributor to three IPCC Assessment Reports and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee, which advises the US Government on climate change, said if countries did not make deep cuts in emissions now, the changing climate would bring heat stress, sea level rise and more extreme drought and floods.
“Organisations like Oxfam can try and help people adapt to climate change but without a serious effort to reduce warming, and in the absence of international funds for adaptation, the food, water, health and livelihoods of millions of people will be at risk,” Ms Liverman said.
[Reposted from Climate and Capitalism]