Deaths and displacement due to climate change set to grow

Posted by jossc — 5 June 2009 at 3:29pm - Comments

A typhoon wrecks the Philippines coastline in 2008
A typhoon wrecks the Philippines coastline in 2008

News in this week from the first comprehensive study into the impacts of global warming on human society - and it makes uneasy reading.

The headline figures are: 300,000 deaths and 300 million people affected every year, at a cost to the global economy of £125 billion. The report was issued by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's thinktank, the Global Humanitarian Forum.

And if emissions are not brought under control within 25 years, things are predicted to get much worse. Increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for up to half a million deaths annually by 2030, at a cost of $600 billion, making climate change the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces.

The biggest threat to humanity is likely to be from collapsing water supplies. Future water shortages, such as those already occurring in northern India as the Himalayan glaciers retreat and remove their meltwaters from the region's rivers, are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems.

The world is at a crossroads. We can no longer afford to ignore the human impact of climate change.
Kofi Annan
The report estimated that 99 per cent of all deaths from weather-related disasters will happen in developing countries, which are also predicted to bear 90 per cent of the total economic burden. The populations most at risk are likely to be in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and the Pacific island states.

Launching the report head of the UN climate change talks in Bonn this week, Kofi Annan said:  "The world is at a crossroads. We can no longer afford to ignore the human impact of climate change. This is a call to the negotiators to come to the most ambitious agreement ever negotiated or to continue to accept mass starvation, mass sickness and mass migration on an ever growing scale."

And report contributor and Nobel peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai said: "Climate change is life or death. It is the new global battlefield. It is being presented as if it is the problem of the developed world. But it's the developed world that has precipitated global warming."

The greatest fear is that tens of millions of people living in coastal zones of Africa, India and the Middle East will be driven from their homes by weather disasters or gradual environmental degradation. But although the scale of the problem seems immense, at least we may collectively be waking up just in time to start doing something about it. At the Kingsnorth Six trial last year the jury were convinced by the evidence of eminent scientists like Dr James Hansen of NASA that emissions from the coal-fired power station were contributing to climate change and species extinction – now we see that burning carbon comes with a cost in human lives too.


The report's analysis was based on data supplied by The World Bank, the World Health organisation, the UN, the Potsdam Institute For Climate Impact Research, a number of leading insurance companies, and Oxfam.

It was peer-reviewed by 10 of the world's leading experts including Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, and Margareta Wahlström, assistant UN secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

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