The world’s poorest didn’t cause the climate crisis, but they bear the brunt of it


The Guardian

Wed 15 May 2024 12.17 EDT

As the global thermometer relentlessly inches upwards, revelations by top climate scientists of 2.5C warming this century (World’s top climate scientists expect global heating to blast past 1.5C target, 8 May) paint a grim future of famines, conflicts and mass migrations fuelled by escalating heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms. However, this so-called semi-dystopian future is already a harsh reality for millions on the frontline of climate change who bear the brunt of a crisis they had little hand in creating.

From farmers in sub-Saharan Africa battling year-on-year crop failures to communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan confronted by unprecedented flooding every rainy season, the impacts are immediate and devastating, bringing untold human suffering. This is not a problem for 2100, but a problem now, immediately, before our eyes. My organisation has witnessed these effects first-hand, and these few examples should serve as a stark reminder to the international community that the time for meaningful change is now.

Yet the response, as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been woefully slow. Addressing the climate crisis in these frontline communities requires a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond short-term fixes. It requires a huge increase in funding and all forms of investment in support of locally led adaptation solutions that allow households, communities and societies to adapt their livelihoods and lifestyles to new patterns of weather and extreme weather events. It also requires partnerships with governments and companies to speed up technology transfer for a fair shift to clean energy, promoting clean and inclusive economic growth where it is most needed.

The climate emergency is not a far-off reality for even rich nations. It’s happening now. We are the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water. It is the marginalised who will be left behind in the face of this escalating climate crisis. As the climate scientist Dipak Dasgupta rightly points out, the plight of poor people cannot be overlooked if we are to avert catastrophe for all. We cannot afford to avert our eyes while the world burns. The time for meaningful change is now, and it is incumbent upon all of us to heed the call before it’s too late.

David Nicholson
Chief climate officer, Mercy Corps

The challenge to poor countries is not that they cannot raise funds from their own people (Poorer nations must be transparent over climate spending, says Cop29 leader, 6 May), it is that the financial approach to climate change only benefits countries that can lend, namely rich countries. Poor countries (that are in reality becoming poorer) cannot absorb any more debts. Twenty sub-Saharan countries are already paying more in debt repayments than they can devote to either health or education. More lending will worsen the situation. What is needed is more investment in human capital, educating the poorest not through formal schools, but through better popular education. Above all, the rich world must change the physical and social environment of smallholders to enable them to produce enough food. Better agriculture leads to better management of the physical environment.

Benny Dembitzer

The world’s poorest didn’t cause the climate crisis, but they bear the brunt of it