Climate change: how poorest suffer most

A A A

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.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam