This report documents the devastation and human suffering caused by climate change. It estimates that every year climate change leaves 300,000 people dead, seriously affects 325 million people and causes $125 billion in economic losses. Four billion people are vulnerable, and 500 million people are at extreme risk. Its impact is likely to double over the next twenty years, making it the most significant humanitarian challenge facing the world. Climate change also concerns issues of justice, as those who are suffering most from the impact are situated in developing countries that have done the least to cause it. Adaptation efforts must be scaled up by a factor of more than 100 in developing countries.
Unlike most of the existing literature on the impacts of climate change, which focuses on damage to the physical environment, this study examines the human impact. Experts now consider climate change to be occurring at a faster rate than previously suggested. Events such as weather-related disasters, desertification and rising sea levels are being exacerbated by climate change and affecting communities across the globe. They can lead to hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods – reducing economic growth and potentially posing a threat to social and political instability. Most people are unable to protect themselves or adapt to avoid these negative impacts.
The number of people severely affected by climate change is more than ten times greater than those injured in traffic accidents each year, and more than the annual number of new malaria cases. In the next twenty years, one in ten of the world’s current population could be severely affected. Further findings include the following:
- The vast majority of current deaths (around 90 per cent) are linked to gradual environmental degradation and are caused by malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria. The remaining 10 per cent of deaths are caused by weather-related disasters.
- The annual economic losses caused by climate change are greater than total annual Official Development Assistance.
- Climate change threatens the Millennium Development Goals, which the international community is committed to achieving, but only half a billion dollars have been committed to funding adaptation from multilateral organisations.
Those who suffer most from climate change have done the least to cause it. The 50 least developed countries contribute less than one per cent of global carbon emissions. Yet, 98 per cent of those seriously affected by climate change and 99 per cent of those killed in weather-related disasters live in developing countries. In addition, developing countries bear the greatest economic losses (90 per cent) attributed to climate change. Developed countries are also increasingly affected – Australia is perhaps the most vulnerable of all developed nations to both direct effects on its environment and indirect effects caused by stress in neighbouring countries.
Strategies for adaptation, mitigation, development and disaster risk reduction must be mutually reinforcing. Recent experience of adaptation in Bangladesh shows that even relatively cheap adaptation measures can have a significant impact on the levels of economic damage and lives lost as a result of weather-related disasters. Global society must work together to overcome the challenge of climate change. Nations must speak with one voice; humanitarian and development agencies should pool resources and people; and businesses and communities should promote steps to tackle climate change.