Climate impacts could reverse progress in the fight against global poverty

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC — Climate change impacts are already taking a toll on the world's poorest people, warned international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam America in a new report released today. The report cautioned that without immediate action, 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.

Published just after the House of Representatives passed a landmark climate change bill and as President Obama prepares to head to the G8 Summit in Italy, "Suffering the Science — Climate Change, People and Poverty" combines the latest scientific observations on climate change and evidence from the communities Oxfam works with around the world, to reveal how the burden of climate change is already hitting poor people hard.

"Climate change is no longer a hypothetical problem, as more and more impacts are becoming evident in vulnerable communities around the world," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "From failed crops to dwindling reserves of clean water and displacement caused by extreme weather events, climate change is taking its toll on people who already face a daily struggle to survive."

Urgent action must be taken to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. But many scientists are now skeptical that the political will exists to make it happen, the report says.

"Many politicians remain unmoved by increasingly urgent calls for action from the scientific community, whereas others are taking action but not at the scale needed to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change," said Professor Diana Liverman, a leading contributor to three IPCC Assessment Reports, member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee and author of the Forward to the Oxfam report. "Without a serious effort to reduce warming, and in the absence of international funds for adaptation, the food, water, health and livelihoods of millions of people will be at risk."

Suffering the Science outlines how climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty and development today, including:

HUNGER: New research based on interviews with farmers in fifteen countries across the world reveals how once distinct seasons are shifting and rains are disappearing. Farmers from Bangladesh to Uganda and Nicaragua, no longer able to rely on generations of farming experience, are facing failed harvest after failed harvest.

AGRICULTURE: Rice and maize, two of the world’s most important crops, face significant drops in yields even under mild climate change scenarios. Maize yields are forecast to drop by 15% or more by 2020 in much of sub-Saharan Africa and in most of India.

HEALTH: Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that were once geographically bound are creeping to new areas where populations lack immunity or the knowledge and healthcare infrastructure to cope with them. It is estimated that climate change has contributed to an average of 150,000 more deaths from disease per year since the 1970s, with over half of those happening in Asia.

LABOR: Rising temperatures will make it impossible for people to work at the same rate on hot summer days without serious health impacts. The ramifications for laborers paid by the hour, and the wider economy. Tropical cities such as Delhi could see a drop of 30% in worker productivity.

WATER: Water supplies are becoming so acutely challenged that several major cities including Kathmandu and La Paz which are dependent on the Himalayan and Andes glaciers may soon be unable to function.

DISASTERS: Disasters including mega fires and storms are on the rise and could triple by 2030. The 2005 hurricane season alone caused more than $165 billion in damages and the insurance industry says that climate change will make the situation worse, particularly for poor people who have no access to insurance.

DISPLACEMENT: An estimated 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change and each year a million more are displaced by weather related events. Island communities from Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Bay of Bengal have already been forced to move because of sea level rise.

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