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A man applies water to his face to cool himself as temperatures soared to near 50°C (or 122°F) in India earlier this year. The world's 3.5 billion poorest people, who are already facing unpredictable floods, droughts, and hunger, have the most at stake in Paris, according to a new Oxfam report. (Photo: AP)

Paris Climate Deal Must Not Ignore Billions of World's Poorest: Oxfam

Will COP21 deal reflect 'the power of the biggest fossil fuel emitters and elites, or the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable'?

Deirdre Fulton

"World leaders need to step up," the head of Oxfam declared Wednesday, calling for an ambitious global fund to address a key paradox of climate change in which the poorest people on Earth suffer most from a crisis they did little to cause.

The international aid agency is calling on rich countries to do their part by committing to deeper emissions cuts and higher climate finance as part of the potential Paris climate agreement to be hammered out over the next few weeks.

What nations have put on the table so far in terms of pledges for both emissions cuts and finance "is not enough" to protect poor people from climate change, said Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, as she announced the release of the group's new report, Game-Changers in the Paris Climate Deal (pdf).

These "game-changers," according to Oxfam, are "the issues that over the next two weeks will determine whether the Paris deal reflects the power of the biggest fossil fuel emitters and elites, or is a turning point which starts to address the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable."

The world's 3.5 billion poorest people, who are already facing unpredictable floods, droughts, and hunger, have the most at stake in Paris, the report states. And with the World Bank warning that human-caused climate change could push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty within just 15 years, those ranks will only continue to grow.

Yet current pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, submitted by individual nations ahead of upcoming COP21 climate talks, would only limit global warming to nearly 3° Celsius—well beyond the 2°C goal. The report blames "big developed nations" for falling short on ambition, declaring: "The emissions reduction gap must be closed, and it must be closed fairly: the onus is on rich countries to move fastest and furthest."

If they fail to do so, the Oxfam analysis shows that developing countries will need an extra $270 billion to adapt, on top of the roughly $520 billion of costs associated with the 2°C target.

But how will they meet those costs, when the same analysis shows the 3°C rise would mean a $1.7 trillion annual hit to their economies?

Furthermore, the aid agency points out, climate funding commitments to help poor countries adapt and develop in a low carbon way only run until 2020. And little progress has been made in agreeing how much will be available after this date, nor how much will go toward adaptation specifically.

"Even now, if all of today’s public adaptation finance were to be divided among the 1.5 billion small-holder farmers in developing countries, they would get the equivalent of just $3 a year to protect themselves from floods, severe droughts, and other climate extremes—the cost of a cup of coffee in many rich countries," Oxfam said in a press statement.

Among its seven recommendations that would "make the deal a better one for poor people," Oxfam calls for:

  • Addressing the lack of finance to help countries adapt by either agreeing that at least half of all public finance should go for adaptation, or setting a fixed target of at least $35 billion by 2020 and at least $50 billion by 2025
  • Agreeing to a strong review mechanism that commits governments to increase the overall ambition of emission cuts from 2020, and every five years thereafter so that  runaway climate change can be avoided
  • Committing to a long-term goal where rich countries lead the way in phasing out fossil fuels

"Our report today shows the scale of the challenge facing the world's poorest people as a result of climate change—which they have done very little to cause," said Byanyima. "The Paris deal needs to be a solid foundation for further global action to tackle climate change, and the more we see poor people at its heart, the stronger it will be."

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