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The right to survive in a changing climate

Publication date:
R. Bailey
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Climate change is a human tragedy which threatens to completely overload the humanitarian system. The potential human costs are unimaginable, and will be borne overwhelmingly by those least responsible for causing the problem: the world’s poor. Driven by upward trends in the number of climate-related disasters and human vulnerability to them, by 2015 the average number of people affected each year by climate-related disasters could increase by over 50 per cent to 375 million.This paper describes how climate-related disasters are becoming increasingly common, and have more than doubled since the 1980s. Since the 1980s, the average number of people reported as affected by climate-related disasters has risen from 121 to 243 million a year – an increase of over 100 per cent.The author discusses that it is extremely difficult to attribute a particular weather event to climate change. Rather, climate change makes certain types of events more likely. The document argues that while climate change increases people’s exposure to disasters, it is their vulnerability to them that determines whether they survive and whether their livelihoods are destroyed. People’s vulnerability is inextricably linked with poverty. In rich countries, an average of 23 people die in any given disaster; in least-developed countries, the average is 1,052.In conclusion, it is argued that responsibility for climate change lies with the industrialised countries that became rich burning fossil fuels. As a result of their wealth, these countries are also capable of taking action to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change and help poor and vulnerable people adapt to the changes that are already unavoidable. Recommendations given include:

industrialised countries should take urgent action to stop harming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020
industrialised countries should start helping by accepting their obligations to pay for adaptation in the developing world and bolstering the humanitarian system
as a group, industrialised countries should make this commitment at Copenhagen in December 2009, when the UN will meet to agree a post-Kyoto international emissions framework
developing countries should use principles of customary international law which indicates that there is a firm legal basis for affected countries to claim money from polluting countries as compensation, if finance for adaptation is not met
rich countries should honor their pledges to finance adaptation and also increase the amounts pledged.