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IPCC climate-change report an ‘atlas of human suffering’

04 March 2022


Smoke created by burning waste materials in a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday

Smoke created by burning waste materials in a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday

THE world’s leading climate scientists have published their latest report on the state of the climate. They find that just under half the global population now live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate change.

This latest update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published on Monday, focused on the effects that climate change is having on the world. It has been described as an “atlas of human suffering” by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

He said: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.

“This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home. It is essential to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°.”

Some of the findings in the new study are that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people now live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change; no inhabited region is free from its impact. The heaviest burden, however, is falling on the poorest communities that have done the least to cause it. The Global Center on Adaptation said that, based on its current emissions trajectory, Africa would lose 30 per cent of its maize production and 50 per cent of its beans. The Center’s chief executive, Patrick Verkooijen, said: “There are certain parts of the world, particularly in Africa, which will become uninhabitable.”

The report also says that flooding has led to increased displacement in Asia, Africa, and Central America, and that this is forecast to increase. Food security is regarded a significant threat, owing to extreme weather, as climatic changes increase the likelihood of crop failures while also making some staple foodstuffs lose their nutritional value.

The danger to farmers and the food system was raised by Fairtrade Foundation’s head of policy, Tim Aldred, who said: “Today’s IPCC report confirms what Fairtrade farmers and workers in low-income nations already know: that the climate crisis is here, threatening their livelihoods, their crops, their communities, and our collective futures. We are reaching a climate tipping point.”

This was echoed by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who is the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment. He said: “The world’s scientists are clear in this latest report. We are accelerating towards a devastating global tipping-point. We need concerted and urgent action to halt the climate emergency so as to protect the poorest and most vulnerable and the future of life on God’s created planet.”

One of the parts of the world facing the most serious problems is East Africa. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Marsabit, in northern Kenya, the Rt Revd Peter Kihara Kariuki, works with the RC relief agency CAFOD. “Today, communities in Marsabit are facing severe drought,” he said. “They find themselves trekking 17 kilometres to the nearest water source. Suffering from the impacts of climate change, they are now dependent on aid from the Church, the government, and NGOs for the basics of life: to be able to eat, and drink clean water.

“We must raise our voices and call for ambitious action from world leaders to bring about climate justice by enacting the strongest measures to keep the global temperature rise at 1.5° or below, commit to binding agreements to cut global carbon emissions, and increase support to communities like mine in Marsabit to adapt to the effects of the climate crisis.”

The IPCC scientists say that the window for averting the worst effects of climate change is closing fast. One point that the report makes is that cities provide an opportunity to reduce emissions. With their greater population density, they can be built on sustainable principles, and changes could have a greater effect for more people, from reducing and greening transportation to rolling out energy-efficiency measures and giving more people access to power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar generation.

In the UK, much of the focus will be on accelerating efforts to reduce emissions to net zero. This week, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said that this also had energy-security benefits in light of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s control of European gas supplies.

In a series of posts on Twitter about the energy crisis, he said: “Remember: renewables are cheaper than gas. UK renewable capacity is up 500% since 2010 — but way more to do. . . The more cheap, clean power we generate at home, the less exposed we’ll be to global gas markets.”

Internationally, eyes are already turning to COP27, the UN climate summit in November, to be hosted by Egypt. Some campaigners are hoping holding the meeting on African soil will mean that progress can be made on funding for adaptation as well as “loss and damage”, compensating people for the permanent losses caused by climate change.

Christian Aid’s climate-justice adviser, Nushrat Chowdhury, said that the UK, which hosted COP26 in Glasgow, is COP president until COP27, and that this gives it an important co-ordinating part to play this year.

She said: “The main thing lacking from the outcome at COP26 was robust financial help for the world’s most vulnerable, despite repeated promises from rich nations that it would be provided. It is now vital that the UK Government spearhead efforts to mobilise much greater funding to help the climate vulnerable adapt, and to set up a fund to deal with the permanent loss and damage which cannot be adapted to.”


Joe Ware is senior climate journalist for Christian Aid.

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