Ezra Klein's "first day at school," as he referred to it via Tweet, at The Washington Post included a keen observation about President Barack Obama's Notre Dame speech. Among the hullabaloo over abortion, Klein pulled out Obama's newer nuanced framing of climate change, placed in both a religious and broader global context for the college crowd. Drawing on a study from the British medical journal The Lancet, Klein wrote:
The developed countries that benefit most from fossil fuels will suffer least. The countries with the maximum incentive to prevent climate change have no power to do it. At Notre Dame, Obama exhorted the graduates to recognize that "that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a 'single garment of destiny.'" But we are not bound equally.
Exactly. Not only are we not equally bound, but our world will not just be one "hot, flat and crowded" planet, contrary to Thomas Friedman's sloganeering. Some areas will be much hotter than others, and much more crowded. These areas will mostly exist in the poorer, more vulnerable terrains of Africa, Asia, and South America. Oxfam International noted this point last month in their "Right to Survive" report, as did the World Bank in their working paper "Sea Level Rise and Storm Surges: A Comparative Analysis of Impacts in Developing Countries." Today, the U.N. released a report emphasizing the same disproportionate destructive impacts on countries least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Among the key findings in the U.N.'s "Risk and poverty in a changing climate":
The policy and institutional frameworks for climate change adaptation and poverty reduction are only weakly connected to those for disaster risk reduction, at both the national and international levels. Countries have difficulty addressing underlying risk drivers such as poor urban and local governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods and ecosystem decline in a way that leads to a reduction in the risk of damages and economic loss.
A failure to address the underlying risk drivers will result in dramatic increases in disaster risk and associated poverty outcomes. In contrast, if addressing these drivers is given priority, risk can be reduced, human development protected and adaptation to climate change facilitated. Rather than a cost, this should be seen as an investment in building a more secure, stable, sustainable and equitable future. Given the urgency posed by climate change, decisive action needs to be taken now.
Boris Johnson, called on the C40 -- the world's 40 leading cities -- responsible for about 80 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions -- to make the steepest emissions-reductions goals. Four cities in that group are in Africa while three are in China, even though China is responsible for most of the world's carbon emissions. From 1850 through 2000 it was the U.S. and Europe who were the leading emitters -- responsible for 30 percent each of cumulative emissions in that time period. The U.S. still remains the emissions-per-capita leader.
The consequence is that impoverished areas of Africa, Asia, and South America -- mostly areas along the coasts -- will lead the world in health and mortality risks. As the U.N. report notes, the increase in cyclones, fueled by climate change, has led to a 200 times greater level of mortality figures in low-income countries than in developed ones. Poor countries are actually less likely to get hit by cyclones, but when they do, look out: They face an 81 percent higher risk of mortality. Single garment of destiny in this respect? Maybe for some. For others? More like multiple robes of dark fates.
-- Brentin Mock
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