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Confronting Climate Change in a Deeply Unequal World

The global reaction to two new landmark reports suggests the world could well lose that confrontation

Protesters gather in Paris to highlight the weakness of the COP21 climate agreement, December 12, 2015. (Photo: Rex Features via AP Images)

wo meticulously sourced — and deeply disturbing — warnings about our shared global future have appeared over the past week. One has terrified much of the world. The other hasn’t, not yet at least, but most certainly should.

You’ve most likely already encountered the first of these warnings, a grim report from the United Nations  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a broad and distinguished panel of the world’s top climate scientists. They’re advising us that the level of global warming that governments once saw as “safe” would, if ever reached, trigger catastrophic dangers.

Humanity has, the scientists tell us, about a dozen years to get our environmental act together. Or else . . .

The second warning came from researchers at Oxfam, the global anti-poverty charity that has emerged as a top critic of our world’s increasingly concentrated income and wealth. Oxfam and the nonprofit Development Finance International have been working over recent years to develop an index that tracks how well the world’s nations are moving “to tackle the gap between rich and poor.”

Oxfam released what amounted to a “beta” version of this index last year. The just-released second version, entitled The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018, offers us a considerably clearer picture of what nations are and aren’t doing to make our world more equal.

The bottom line of the new Oxfam analysis: Nations aren’t doing nearly enough. Oxfam’s researchers examined the records of 157 nations. Of these 157, 112 “are doing less than half of what the best performers are managing to do.”

And even those “top performers,” Oxfam emphasizes, aren’t doing “particularly well.” In Oxfam’s top-ranked Denmark, for instance, inequality has increased by 20 percent since 2005.

Oxfam’s findings haven’t made much of a worldwide ripple. The shocking warnings implicit in the UN group’s update on our impending climate catastrophe have garnered far more of the world’s attention, and we probably could have predicted that outcome. We’re living, after all, in a burning house. Who has time to argue about who gets the biggest rooms?

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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