Wealthy communities will be able to buy their way out of the unfolding climate crisis while the poorest will suffer most, a UN report has found.
Even under the unrealistic "best-case" scenario of 1.5C of warming by 2100, many millions of people will have to choose between starvation and migration, Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned.
He predicted a split between those able to mitigate the worst effects of the warming planet and those with no means to avoid it, calling it a "climate apartheid".
And he said the fallout from our rapidly warming climate would have dire implications for human rights and democracy.
"What was once considered catastrophic warming now seems like a best-case scenario," Mr Alston said.
"While people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves.
“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.
"Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor."
He cited vulnerable New Yorkers being stranded without power or healthcare when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, while "the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator".
The poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – is responsible for just 10 per cent of carbon emissions, while the richest 10 per cent are responsible for around half of greenhouse gases.
And a person in the wealthiest 1 per cent uses 175 times more carbon than one in the bottom 10 per cent, an Oxfam report from 2015 found.
There have been some positive developments, with renewable energy prices falling, coal becoming uncompetitive, emissions declining in 49 countries, and 7,000 cities, 245 regions, and 6,000 companies committing to climate mitigation.
However, despite ending its reliance on coal, China – the world's biggest polluter – is still exporting coal-fired power plants and is failing to crack down on its own methane emissions.
Donald Trump has blamed other nations for the crisis despite the US being the world's second biggest polluter.
“China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities … you can’t even breathe, and now that air is going up … They don’t do the responsibility," he said in an interview earlier in June.
Mr Alston also criticised the "patently inadequate" steps taken by UN human rights bodies to address the climate crisis, saying the "incremental" progress was "entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat".
"Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster," he concluded.
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