By Senior Campaign Agent Johnny Wordsworth
Within the coming decades, we will see an exponential increase in the risk of financial and climatic vulnerability around the globe. Climate change is forecasted to affect billions of people; unfortunately, it is the poorest who are likely to be affected the most. As the latest US Bill for natural disasters smashes it’s record, at $306 billion dollars, it is myopic of us to expect that those who are most vulnerable- living below, on, or just above the poverty line, will be able to cope with what’s to come. Such groups are not only at risk from the perils of extreme weather, but also the façade of a global interconnected future where everyone trades in the global market. Less developed countries that join the global production network- trading and importing goods in the world market, are in increasing danger of shocks from the western world. This can be seen in the case of job loss from the 2015-2016 oil price crash.
According to the World Health Organisation, climate change is anticipated to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, primarily due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. These deaths will predominantly take place in the developing world; regrettably, those who are least to blame will be forced to pay the price for the carelessness of industrialised countries.
Although the climate will continue to vary from year to year, climate projections for the globe suggest that we can expect the following changes:
- higher average temperatures, particularly in summer and winter
- changes in seasonal rainfall patterns
- rising sea levels
- more heatwaves, droughts and extreme lengths of cold temperatures
- more intense downpours of rain
- higher intensity storms
As well as changes in the average climate, there could be changes in weather extremes. Whilst some phenomenon (such as very hot days and intense downpours of rain) could become more common- others, such as snowfall, are likely to decrease.
Often, those living on or just below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day are autarkic or subsistence farmers that farm maize, corn, wheat or coffee. During the post-cold war increase in global interdependence, often stated as the creation of the ‘borderless world’, these developing countries established domestic production streams that favoured exports of global powerhouse commodities, predominantly coffee and sugar. As governments heavily subsidised domestic production of these primary crops (this still goes on), a large proportion of agricultural areas were utilised for the growth of one or two crops. Evidently, this can lead to an array of catastrophic disasters if poor management and small changes in global prices occur.
In 1986, during the height of Hutu control in Rwanda, the central government did exactly as written. Allocating almost all land and subsidies to the production of coffee, leading to 82% of their exports allocated into one crop. As the government increased the reward for coffee production, more farmers switched over to coffee. In 1989, disaster struck; global coffee prices plummeted, leaving a vast reduction in incomes and a net deficit on the government’s accounts. A considerable percentage of Rwanda’s land had now been allocated to coffee production and plantations, therefore leaving limited space for domestic food production and a huge net loss in fiscal spending that led the country in a deep depression. Various scholars believe this was the spark that finally led to the 1994 Rwandan genocide where 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu people were killed. Despite progress since the depths of 1994, many countries in the global south still predominantly export one or two primary crops- highlighting the dramatic risk posed by entering the global market and gambling with international prices.
Financial vulnerability is not the only issue. A small rise in the world’s sea levels, predicted as a result of global climate change, could make environmental refugees of some 56 million people in developing countries around the world. Not only would these refugees inflict huge costs on neighbouring countries, but often they set a route for disaster- leading to cases of conflict, disease and unrest.
If seas rise as little as 39 inches (1 meter) this century, as forecasted by various academic scholars, one-fourth of the heavily populated Nile Delta in Egypt would be underwater. Coastal Vietnam would also be severely affected, as would Mauritania, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas and Benin; the list goes on.
These findings are elaborated in an interesting Reuters article, which assesses the consequences of sea level rise after every additional 39 inches (1 meter), showing these consequences:
-- A 6.6 foot (2 meter) rise would inundate 22 percent of Mexico’s wetlands.
-- A 9.8 foot (3 meter) rise would hit 17 percent of Mauritania’s gross domestic product.
-- A 13 foot (4 meter) rise would submerge 35 percent of Vietnam’s urban areas.
-- A 16.4 foot (5 meter) rise would force 16.7 million people in Bangladesh to become refugees.
Even the most extreme scenarios cannot be dismissed, due to the possibility that the thick ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica could disintegrate as the world warms. The Greenland ice sheet alone could lead to a 23 foot increase in the global sea level.
All is not lost; there are solutions available to developing countries, but action must be taken immediately. Countries need to set their own risk reduction priorities and realise those goals with international support. A first step is for affected countries to identify and make plans for reducing weather-related and financial risks. Risk reduction activities could include:
- Map and avoid high-risk zones
- Build hazard-resistant structures and houses
- Protect and develop hazard buffers (forests, reefs, etc.)
- Develop culture of prevention and resilience
- Improve early warning and response systems
- Build institutions, and development policies and plans
- Hand in Hand financial risk Aid
- Guidance by IMF and World Bank in domestic crop production
Of course, these require investment, support and research. Ultimately, it should be a global goal to alleviate the detrimental effects of the actions of the western world on the poorest nations. In order to achieve sustainability for future generations, unified action must be a priority- before it is too late.
Sources and Further Reading:
- “World Development Report 2010”, The World Bank (15 September 2015)
- “Human Development Report 2014”, United Nations Development Report (24 July 2014)
- “$306bn in one year: US bill for natural disasters smashes record”, The Guardian (8 January 2018)
- Oliver Ratcliffe, “The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Put Simply”, Talk Politics (23 October 2017)
- Ben Abbs, “Mythbuster: Snow in Israel, is global warming real?” , Talk Politics (26 September 2017)
- Ben Abbs, “Be a Voice: Climate Change- How experts, hamburgers and human nature will kill us before cars”, Talk Politics (16 October 2017)
- “Climate change and health”, World Health Organisation (July 2017)
- I.A.Kamola, “The Global Coffee Economy and the Production of Genocide in Rwanda”, Third World Quarterly (2007)
- Deborah Zabarenko, “Sea level rise could hit poor countries hard: study”, Reuters (13 February 2007)
Image: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre @Flickr