Poorest Suffer Most
By Paul Vallely
28 November, 2007
Global warming is not a future
apocalypse, but a present reality for many of the world's poorest people,
according to the most hard-hitting United Nations report yet on climate
change, published yesterday.
A catalogue of the "climate
shocks" that have already hit the world is set out in the Human
Development Report 2007/08. Fewer than two per cent of these have affected
rich countries. Europe had its most intense heatwave for 50 years and
Japan its greatest number of tropical cyclones in a single year. But
far more intense drought, floods and storms than usual have plagued
the developing world.
Monsoons displaced 14 million
people in India, seven million in Bangladesh and three million in China
which has seen the heaviest rainfall – and second highest death
toll – since records began. Cyclones blasted Indonesia, the Philippines
and Vietnam. Hurricanes devastated the Caribbean and Central America,
killing more than 1,600 Mayan people in Guatemala. Droughts have afflicted
Africa, driving 14 million people from their homes.
In the rich world, insurers
report a fivefold increase in climate-related insurance claims. In the
poor world the cost is counted in terms of hidden human suffering, for
most disasters are under-reported.
Based on new climate modelling,
the UN report has a number of strong messages. It is highly critical
of US, EU and British policies on global warming – it says the
measures in Gordon Brown's Climate Change Bill are "not consistent
with the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change".
However, its top-line message
is that the fixation of campaigners like Al Gore with a long-term "we're
all doomed" vision of global warming has diverted attention from
more immediate threats.
Already, its new research
shows, children born in Ethiopia in years of drought are 41 per cent
more likely to be stunted from malnutrition than those born in a time
of rains. That has already created two million more malnourished children
– and this is not an affliction that is shaken off when the rains
return. It creates cycles of life-long disadvantage.
The report shows how climate
shocks force the poor to adopt emergency coping strategies – reduced
nutrition, withdrawal of children from school, cuts in health spending
– which damage the long-term health of entire societies.
After 150 years in which
human well-being has steadily improved, the world is now facing the
prospect that progress on indicators such as poverty, nutrition, literacy
and infant mortality will be arrested. "It may even be reversed,"
said the report's lead author, Kevin Watkins, who was formerly head
of research at Oxfam.
The report says George Bush's
home-state of Texas (population 23 million) has a bigger carbon footprint
than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (population 720 million).
The report also criticises
Britain's policy on climate change. The UK is the world leader on rhetoric,
it says, yet "if the rest of the developed world followed the pathway
envisaged in the UK's Climate Change Bill, dangerous climate change
would be inevitable".
The report says two things
need to be done. Rich nations need to massively cut emissions (by at
least 80 per cent) and developing and emerging nations need to make
modest cuts (of around 20 per cent). Also, large amounts of money are
needed to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Hardly anything
is being spent in the poor world, where people were least responsible
for global warming but suffer most. The amounts donated to the UN's
climate change mitigation fund have been equivalent to only one week's
worth of spending under the UK's flood defence programme.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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