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The greatest burden of climate change will fall on those in poverty
by Philip Alston
UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty
There is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change, but they seem to have remained largely unheard so far.
In accepting the 2018 Nobel Prize for Economics, William Nordhaus described climate change as a ‘Colossus that threatens our world’ and the ‘ultimate challenge for economics’
The 2001 winner of the same prize, Joseph Stiglitz, referred to it more recently as World War III. Pope Francis has declared a global ‘climate emergency,’ and warned that failure to take urgent action would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations.”
Climate change threatens truly catastrophic consequences across much of the globe and the human rights of vast numbers of people will be among the casualties.
By far the greatest burden will fall on those in poverty, but they will by no means be the only victims.
The last five years have been the hottest in the modern record and global carbon dioxide emissions began rising again in 2017 after three years of levelling off.
World energy consumption is projected to grow 28 percent between 2015 and 2040. The consequences today are attested to by record temperatures, rapidly melting icecaps, unprecedented wildfires, frequent so-called “thousand year” floods, as well as devastating, more frequent hurricanes.
Millions face malnutrition due to devastating drought, and many more will have to choose between starvation and migration. Rising ocean temperatures are killing marine ecosystems that support food systems for hundreds of millions of people. And climate change is threatening food production and posing dire economic and social threats.
The most widespread scientific benchmark for measuring global warming is the rise in temperature relative to pre-industrial levels, already 1°C. The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to ensure no higher than a 2°C rise by 2100 and endeavours to limit it to 1.5°C. But even those increases would be catastrophic for many people.
A rise of only 1.5°C rather than 2°C could mean reducing the number of people vulnerable to climate-related risks by up to 457 million; 10 million fewer people exposed to the risk of sea level rise; reducing exposure to floods, droughts, and forest fires; limiting damage to ecosystems and reductions in food and livestock; cutting the number of people exposed to water scarcity by half; and up to 190 million fewer premature deaths over the century.
However, the scale of change required to limit warming to 1.5°C is historically unprecedented and could only be achieved through “societal transformation” and ambitious emissions reduction measures. And even 1.5°C of warming – an unrealistic, best-case scenario – will lead to extreme temperatures in many regions and leave disadvantaged populations with food insecurity, lost incomes and livelihoods, and worse health.
In all of these scenarios, the worst affected are the least well-off members of society. Climate change threatens the full enjoyment of a wide range of rights. Rapid action and adaptation can mitigate much of this, but only if done in a way that protects people in poverty from the worst effects.
According to the World Bank, at 2 °C degrees of warming, 100-400 million more people could be at risk of hunger and 1-2 billion more people may no longer have adequate water.
Climate change could result in global crop yield losses of 30 percent by 2080, even with adaptation measures. Between 2030 and 2050, it is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.
With people in poverty largely uninsured, climate change will exacerbate health shocks that already push 100 million into poverty every year.
People in poverty face a very real threat of losing their homes. By 2050, climate change could displace 140 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America alone. Flooding and landslides can weaken already degraded infrastructure and housing—especially for people living in unplanned or unserviced settlements.
2017 saw 18.8 million people displaced due to disasters in 135 countries—almost twice the number displaced by conflict.
Since 2000, people in poor countries have died from disasters at rates seven times higher than in wealthy countries. In addition, authorities have a history of prioritizing wealthier areas for protection, further endangering people in poverty.
Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor.
Climate change will exacerbate existing poverty and inequality. It will have the most severe impact in poor countries and regions, and the places poor people live and work. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75-80 percent of the costs of climate change.
People in poverty tend to live in areas more susceptible to climate change and in housing that is less resistant; lose relatively more when affected; have fewer resources to mitigate the effects; and get less support from social safety nets or the financial system to prevent or recover from the impact. Their livelihoods and assets are more exposed and they are more vulnerable to natural disasters that bring disease, crop failure, spikes in food prices, and death or disability.
Climate change threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. Middle-class families, including in developed countries, are also being rendered poor. The World Bank estimates that without immediate action, climate change could push 120 million more people into poverty by 2030—likely an underestimate, and rising in subsequent years. Eight hundred million in South Asia alone live in climate hotspots and will see their living conditions decline sharply by 2050.
Perversely, the richest, who have the greatest capacity to adapt and are responsible for and have benefitted from the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, will be the best placed to cope with climate change, while the poorest, who have contributed the least to emissions and have the least capacity to react, will be the most harmed.
The poorest half of the world’s population—3.5 billion people—is responsible for just 10 percent of carbon emissions, while the richest 10 percent are responsible for a full half. A person in the wealthiest 1 percent uses 175 times more carbon than one in the bottom 10 percent.
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Global Report on Food Crises
by UN News, WFP, FAO, OCHA, IPC, agencies
Apr. 2019
The Global Report on Food Crises highlights the plight of millions of people who must fight every day against acute hunger and malnutrition.
For several years the number of people who cannot meet their daily food needs without humanitarian assistance has been rising, primarily driven by two factors: persistent instability in conflict-ridden regions and adverse climate events.
Climate-induced disasters, economic crises and, above all, armed conflict, continued to drive hunger rates and food insecurity in 2018.
More than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) in 2018.
An additional 143 million people in a subset of 42 countries were found to be living in Stressed conditions on the cusp of acute hunger (IPC/CH Phase 2). They risked slipping into Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) if faced with a shock or stressor.
The worst food crises in 2018, in order of severity, were: Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan and north Nigeria.
These eight countries accounted for two thirds of the total number of people facing acute food insecurity – amounting to nearly 72 million people. Countries in Africa remained disproportionally affected by food insecurity.
The figure of 113 million people represents a slight improvement over the number for 2017 presented in last year’s report, in which an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries faced acute hunger. Despite the slight decrease, over the past three years, the report has consistently shown that, year on year, more than 100 million people(2016, 2017 and 2018) have faced periods of acute hunger.The modest decrease between 2017 and 2018 is largely attributed to changes in climate shocks.
A number of highly exposed countries did not experience the intensity of climate-related shocks and stressors that they had experienced in 2017 when they variously faced severe drought, flooding, erratic rains and temperature rises brought on by the El Niño of 2015-16. These include countries in southern and eastern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region.
High levels of acute and chronic malnutrition in children living in emergency conditions remained of grave concern. The immediate drivers of undernutrition include poor dietary intake and disease. Mothers and caregivers often face challenges in providing children with the key micronutrients they need at critical growth periods in food crises.
This is reflected in the dismally low number of children consuming a minimum acceptable diet in most of the countries profiled in this report.
Conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence – the main drivers of food insecurity – continued to erode livelihoods and destroy lives. Conflict and insecurity remained the key driver in 2018. Some 74 million people – two thirds of those facing acute hunger – were located in 21 countries and territories affected by conflict or insecurity. Around 33 million of these people were in 10 countries in Africa; over 27 million were in seven countries and territories in West Asia/Middle East; 13 million were in three countries in South/South-east Asia and 1.1 million in Eastern Europe.
Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into situations of acute food insecurity in 2018. As in previous years, most of these individuals were in Africa, where nearly 23 million people in 20 countries were acutely food insecure primarily due to climate shocks. Economic shocks were the primary driver of acute food insecurity for 10.2 million people, mainly in Burundi, the Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Food insecurity: short-term outlook for 2019
Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan and north Nigeria are expected to remain among the world’s most severe food crises in 2019.
Large segments of populations in most of these countries risk falling into Emergency (IPC/CH Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity.
Climate shocks and conflict will continue driving food insecurity and are expected once again to severely affect several regions. Dry weather in parts of southern Africa and drought in Central America’s Dry Corridor have dampened prospects for agricultural output. El Niño conditions are likely to have an impact on agricultural production and food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The needs of refugees and migrants in host countries are expected to remain significant in Bangladesh and the Syria regional crisis. The number of displaced people, refugees and migrants are expected to increase if the political and economic crisis persists in Venezuela.
Ending conflicts, empowering women, nourishing and educating children, improving rural infrastructure and reinforcing social safety-nets are essential for a resilient, stable and hunger-free world.
The potential for agricultural development and rural resilience-building to provide a buffer against crises – highlights the need for a new way of responding to food security challenges. Investments in conflict prevention and sustaining peace will save lives and livelihoods, reduce structural vulnerabilities and help address the root causes of hunger.
This report complements the evidence reported by The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018 (SOFI), which identifies 821 million undernourished people. While the SOFI estimate provides the scale of chronic food insecurity worldwide, the Global Report on Food Crises focuses specifically on the most severe manifestations of acute food insecurity in the world’s most pressing food crises.
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