Climate Change Growing Increasingly Bad--and Increasingly Unfair

Inspecting failed corn crops in Mauritania. In 2015, Africa was the continent hardest hit by extreme weather events, such as drought and heat waves. (Photo: Oxfam International/cc/flickr)

Climate Change Growing Increasingly Bad--and Increasingly Unfair

Reports unveiled at COP22 underscore the urgency of negotiations, particularly in regards to financing climate adaption and mitigation in poor countries

There is no equity when it comes to who is most affected most by climate change, researchers said Tuesday, as a pair of new reports were unveiled, highlighting who will suffer the most as a result of the record "hot and wild" climate as well as the "increasingly visible human footprint on extreme weather."

"We just had the hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year. Even that record is likely to be beaten in 2016," declared Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which released its five-year study of the global climate to attendees of the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), also known as COP22, which is being held in Marrakesh, Morrocco this week.

While that information wasn't necessarily new, the study also found that these record temperatures and other indicators--rising sea levels, as well as declines in Arctic sea-ice extent, glaciers, and snow cover--further confirm that human activity is to blame for change.

What's more, The Global Climate 2011-2015 (pdf) also determined that more than half of the extreme weather events recorded during that time "had their likelihood of occurring substantially enhanced by human-induced climate change." In some cases, the probability of extreme heat increased by a factor of 10 or more.

Among the "high-impact events" highlighted in the report are:

the East African drought in 2010-2012 which caused an estimated 258,000 excess deaths and the 2013-2015 southern African drought; flooding in South-East Asia in 2011 which killed 800 people and caused more than US$40 billion in economic losses, 2015 heatwaves in India and Pakistan in 2015, which claimed more than 4,100 lives; Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which caused US$67 billion in economic losses in the United States of America, and Typhoon Haiyan which killed 7,800 people in the Philippines in 2013.

As delegates are meeting to discuss a global "rule book" for implementing the Paris climate agreement, the long-term study underscored the urgency of those negotiations, particularly for individuals living in the global south and other high-risk areas.

"The distribution of climatic events is not fair," said Sonke Kreft, lead author of the Global Climate Risk Index 2017 (pdf), which was also unveiled at COP22 Tuesday.

The annual study, performed by Bonn-based risk analysts Germanwatch, found that of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events between 1995-2014, "nine were developing countries in the low income or lower-middle income country group, while only one (Thailand) was classified as an upper-middle income country." The hardest hit countries were Honduras, Myanmar, and Haiti.

Last year, Africa was the continent hardest hit, as it is home to four of the 10 countries most impacted by extreme weather events in 2015.

These are countries "with very low emissions, which are least responsible for climate change," Kreft added.

According to the report, between 1995 and 2014, "more than 525,000 people died worldwide and losses of more than USD 2.97 trillion were incurred as a direct result of over 15,000 extreme weather events."

And while "absolute monetary losses" as a result of these events are higher in rich countries, "[l]oss of life and personal hardship is...much more widespread especially in low-income countries."

Developing an equitable system for those countries "least responsible" for the warming crisis to pay for mitigation and adaption efforts is one of the primary goals of this year's climate conference.

"People are already suffering the consequences of climate impacts, dirty energy and false solutions in a 1degC world," Sara Shaw, a climate justice and energy program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, wrote in an op-ed published at Common Dreams on Tuesday.

Citing last week's report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which concluded that "we have only 3 years to make dramatic cuts or any hope of keeping temperature rise below 1.5degC will be lost," Shaw said that its up to rich nations to take urgent action.

"Rich countries must act now to drastically cut their emissions at source and to provide the massive finance needed for the energy revolution in the global south," she said.

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