The world has achieved numerous developmental successes in the past few decades. Poverty has been eradicated in some parts of the world and drastically reduced in others (e.g. China and India). Impressive results have also been achieved in global health and disease prevention as well as in many other areas of development.
However, in a recent report, Philip Alston—the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights—argues that the impact of climate will be greatest on the people living in poverty and will also threaten democracy and human rights in large parts of the world.
Indeed, the report argues that if the current trend of global warming continues, several hundred million people risk food insecurity with a decline in food production due to crop yield losses.
These groups also risk water insecurity and greater risks of malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Moreover, an increase in the incidence of droughts and floods and the resulting displacement will have a disproportionate impact on the daily lives of those living in poverty.
Alston’s report makes a persuasive case for how climate-related disruptions will increase current levels of poverty and inequality, and how the poorest countries and regions of the world will be hardest hit. Indeed, this conclusion corroborates a World Bank finding from as far back as 2010 that concluded that low-income countries will bear almost 80 percent of the costs of climate change.
Climate apartheid becomes even more apparent when estimates by several NGOs such as Oxfam find that the poorest half of the world’s population, consisting of 3.5 billion people, are responsible for only 10 percent of total carbon emissions. Thus, Mr. Alston observes that while affluent countries – who have polluted the most thus far and benefited immensely from polluting industries emitting greenhouse gases—will ironically be best placed to adapt to climate change.
Alston’s report finds that the world’s current predicament is largely due to the failure of governmental leadership (some governments remain in denial on the adverse impacts of climate change), the tendency of corporate actors (particularly those in the fossil fuel industry) to prioritize profits rather than the protection of human rights, and the complicity of many government with corporate emissions by continuing to provide generous subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Although most government representatives make impressive commitments at global forums, their commitments to promoting sustainable development and responding to climate change at national and local levels is much weaker.
Alston’s report thus concludes that “States have marched past every scientific warning and threshold, and what was once considered catastrophic warming now seems like a best-case scenario”. Moreover, “too many countries are taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction.” This is not good news.