“A HUNDRED YEARS from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change.” (THE ECONOMIST, December 2011)
Changes in the earth’s climate have taken place for millenia and human and animal beings have been adapting to them or perishing in the process. We did not know much about climate science back then. Nowadays, however, we know current levels of climate change are caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know those gases stay there for many years, warming the planet to unprecedented levels, already threatening lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, becoming the greatest challenge of our times. Last 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that there is 95% certainty that human influence is the dominant factor warming the planet. Main anthropogenic drivers are land-use changes -cutting down forests- and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas that power the biggest economies of the world today.
But… who are the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change?
People’s vulnerabilities vary with geography, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, although some of these factors have more weight than others depending on context. A useful comparison can be done between two countries which, geographically speaking, are both very vulnerable to climate change: The Netherlands and Bangladesh. Despite their densely populated territories and geographical vulnerability, particularly to sea-level rise, The Netherlands has social protection systems in place to protect its population, besides valuable technical experience developed after centuries protecting its coasts. On the other hand, Bangladesh is a developing country with more than 50 million people living in poverty. Climate change planning clashes with widespread corruption and lack of capacities. Economic inequality translates into inequality in access to water, food, sanitation, adequate housing, education, health, translating into low adaptive capacities to climate change. Poverty reduces people’s capacities to respond to emergencies, and climatic events rapidly become disasters. Affected poor households in Bangladesh, and elsewhere where people are not at the center of protection systems, are forced to use and/or sell last assets to cope with losses and crisis. Poverty, with each disaster, becomes then more entrenched. Current inequality is, therefore, the defining factor in the future of these two countries regarding climate change impacts on their territories. Unless deliberate scaled-up attempts to reduce risk are made. Climate vulnerability in The Netherlands will stay low, with related economic costs reducing to the minimum by 2030. On the contrary, Bangladesh vulnerability and related economic costs, already considered very acute, will continue to increase in the coming decades.
“The defining challenge of the 21st century is to combine a rapid reduction in poverty and inequality with a rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.” (Werner Haug Gordon McGranahan, Director, Technical division Head, Human Settlements Group, UNFPA/IIED, 2009)
Worth mentioning is another striking comparison between these two countries regarding their contributions to global warming: The Netherlands, with its 16 million inhabitants, released 174 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2011, without counting the 6 million tonnes emitted by Anglo Dutch Shell into the Nigerian environment due to oil and gas operations during the same period. For the same year Bangladesh, with its 150 million people, released 54 millions tones.
In comparison with the economies of the North, most developing nations offer minimal contributions to carbon emissions accumulating in the atmosphere causing climate change. Despite this, developing nations like Bangladesh, a country already committed never to exceed the average per capita emissions of societies in the developed world, are nevertheless expected to bear 75 to 80% of the costs of climate change impacts.
At this stage in time, most important climate change driver is the political unwillingness to deal with climate change by decision-makers, who do not understand the risks of inaction and/or simply have their own agendas. Or perhaps that, due to bested interests, prefer to work together with the corporate world so to keep the status quo.
The Age of Stupid (video)
2014 IPCC Last Report on Central America
The 90 Fossil Fuel Companies Most Responsible for Climate Change (interactive map)
Writings on Bangladesh
Climate Vulnerability Monitor