Tuesday, April 10, 2007

World’s poor pay the price for climate change

Buried over the holiday period, when the media was more interested in New Labour’s disastrous attempt to spin the Iranian hostage story, was another devastating report on climate change. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear that "the poorest of the poor in the world - and this includes poor people in prosperous societies - are going to be the worst hit" by climate change. Despite last minute watering down of its contents, the second IPCC report this year described the regional impacts of climate change. China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States were all blamed for changing the scientific conclusions in the report, with some of the scientists walking out of the all-night drafting session in disgust. The report forecasts that climate change will affect the health of millions of people, increase malnutrition, disease, injuries and deaths (from heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts). Some 29,000 observational data sets were looked at during the preparation of the report, which confirmed that the increase in regional temperatures over the last 30 years have had discernible impacts on both physical and biological systems. Over the next 40 years, people in seasonally dry and tropical regions will face increasing droughts and hunger as the productivity of crops decreases, with up to a 30% decrease in water availability. At the same time, more severe storms will increase the risk of floods. Water availability will also decline in places like Lima in Peru, where people rely on water supplies from glaciers and snow.

Up to 30% of the world's plant and animal species could become extinct even with a global average temperature rise of 1.5 to 2.50C , which is now virtually certain. The progressive acidification of oceans will have continuing negative impacts on marine shell organisms, with warming seas increasing coral bleaching and mortality. It is expected that net carbon uptake by terrestrial sinks will peak before 2050, after which they will weaken or go into reverse, feeding global warming. The poor in the developing world, especially those in coastal and river plains, will suffer most from a range of regional impacts. In Africa, up to 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress by 2020, with agricultural yields reducing by up to 50%. Fish resources will decrease as lake-water temperatures increase and rising sea levels will affecting densely populated low lying coastal regions. In Asia, Himalayan glacial melt will initially increase flooding. But by 2050 decreased river flows will result in reduced freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia, affecting more than a billion people. Crop yields in Central and South Asia will decrease by up to 30% by 2050, while the heavily populated mega-deltas in South, East and Southeast Asia will face increased flooding. In Latin America , the tropical forests of the eastern Amazon will be replaced by savannah, and semi-arid vegetation will be replaced by arid-land vegetation by 2050, with significant bio-diversity loss and species. Increased salinisation and desertification of agricultural land will result in decreased crop productivity and declining levels of livestock. On small islands, people will be especially vulnerable to coastal erosion of beaches from rising sea levels and increasing inundation from extreme storm surges. Coral bleaching will negatively effect fishing resources. By 2050 both Caribbean and Pacific islands will find that fresh water availability will not be met from annual rainfall. The picture is stark. As globalised capital continues business as usual, pouring out ever increasing quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in its search for increasing levels of profit, the world's poor are paying the price through increased risks of starvation, drought, disease and death from flooding. The nub of the problem is that global capitalism needs to be replaced with a not-for-profit ecological approach to the economy, based on producing enough for all and not more profits. You can read more about this approach in Running a Temperature, published recently by A World to Win.

Stuart Barlow

No comments: