Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Humanity Faces Unprecedented Threats From Climate Change

by the United Nations Development Programme
November 27, 2007

With governments preparing to gather in Bali, Indonesia to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report has warned that the world should focus on the development impact of climate change that could bring unprecedented reversals in poverty reduction, nutrition, health and education.

The report, "Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world", provides a stark account of the threat posed by global warming. It argues that the world is drifting towards a “tipping point” that could lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods.

“Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs,” commented UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş.

The report comes at a key moment in negotiations to forge a multilateral agreement for the period after 2012—the expiry date for the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It calls for a “twin track” approach that combines stringent mitigation to limit 21st Century warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F), with strengthened international cooperation on adaptation.

On mitigation, the authors call on developed countries to demonstrate leadership by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The report advocates a mix of carbon taxation, more stringent cap-and-trade programmes, energy regulation, and international cooperation on financing for low-carbon technology transfer.

Turning to adaptation, the report warns that inequalities in ability to cope with climate change are emerging as an increasingly powerful driver of wider inequalities between and within countries. It calls on rich countries to put climate change adaptation at the centre of international partnerships on poverty reduction.

“We are issuing a call to action, not providing a counsel of despair,” commented lead author Kevin Watkins, adding, “Working together with resolve, we can win the battle against climate change. Allowing the window of opportunity to close would represent a moral and political failure without precedent in human history.” He described the Bali talks as a unique opportunity to put the interests of the world’s poor at the heart of climate change negotiations.

The report provides evidence of the mechanisms through with the ecological impacts of climate change will be transmitted to the poor. Focusing on the 2.6 billion people surviving on less than US$2 a day, the authors warn forces unleashed by global warming could stall and then reverse progress built up over generations. Among the threats to human development identified by Fighting climate change:

- The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition. Semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the world face the danger of potential productivity losses of 26% by 2060.
- An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
- Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
- Emerging health risks, with an additional population of up to 400 million people facing the risk of malaria.

Setting out the evidence from a new research exercise, the authors of the Human Development Report argue that the potential human costs of climate change have been understated. They point out that climate shocks such as droughts, floods and storms, which will become more frequent and intense with climate change, are already among the most powerful drivers of poverty and inequality—and global warming will strengthen the impacts.

“For millions of people, these are events that offer a one-way ticket to poverty and long-run cycles of disadvantage,” says the report. Apart from threatening lives and inflicting suffering, they wipe out assets, lead to malnutrition, and result in children being withdrawn from school. In Ethiopia, the report finds that children exposed to a drought in early childhood are 36% more likely to be malnourished—a figure that translates into 2 million additional cases of child malnutrition.

While the report focuses on the immediate threats to the world’s poor, it warns that failure to tackle climate change could leave future generations facing ecological catastrophe. It highlights the possible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheets, the retreat of glaciers, and the stress on marine ecosystems as systemic threats to humanity.

© Copyright United Nations Development Programme

Read more here: http://www.undp.org/

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