Developing world’s need for climate finance grows ever more urgent
The report released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists mandated by the UN to track climate change, is particularly scathing about the impact of global warming that the world will experience in the coming years.
While it is bad news for the entire world, it is particularly stark and damning for two regions: Africa, notably sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
These two are among the poorest parts of the world, while together accounting for more than 40 percent of the global population. Historically, both regions have had little to do with causing climate change and, even today, their per capita carbon dioxide emissions are less than a tenth of the rich world’s.
However, these two regions are set to face the worst of the impacts of climate change, according to the IPCC. Its report states that the people and ecosystems least able to cope are being hit hardest.
Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia face the worst scenarios not only because of the intensity of the impact of climate change, but also due to their large and extremely poor populations, along with very patchy infrastructure and means to cope with the negative effects of climate change.
The negative and even catastrophic impacts of climate change are vast for both regions, but South Asia in particular will face every single effect. This covers extreme heat, droughts, floods, rising sea levels, disappearing biodiversity, the melting of glaciers and food and energy insecurity.
“Rising temperature increases likelihood of the threat of heat waves across Asia, droughts in arid and semi-arid areas of West, Central and South Asia, floods in monsoon regions in South, Southeast and East Asia, and glacier melting in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region,” the IPCC report states.
The forecast for Africa is no better. It has already experienced widespread losses due to climate change, such as biodiversity loss, water shortages, reduced food production, loss of lives and reduced economic growth. The future is particularly dark where the situation is made worse due to rapid and haphazard urbanization. Both regions are bound to see a sharp rise in the number of people living in coastal areas, making them vulnerable to rising seas.
Paradoxically, alongside rising seas and more frequent extreme climate events like intense rainfall and flash floods, both South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will face prolonged droughts, threatening well over 2.2 billion people who depend on farming for their livelihood. In South Asia, even the mighty rivers originating in the Himalayas would see severe water scarcity worsening the impact of droughts.
This would be disastrous for the regions that already fare the worst in terms of malnourishment and undernourishment. Food inflation is set to worsen as farm outputs become unpredictable and, once again, the most vulnerable are in the world’s poorest regions.
It is in the interest of the rich nations to step up and fund the work that is needed to deal with climate change.
Ranvir S. Nayar
It is not just hunger that is set to become a bigger and ever-present challenge for the governments in these regions. Health is another omnipresent problem that is set to worsen in these parts of the world, mainly due to a spike in vector-borne and water-borne diseases, mental disorders and allergic diseases. The impact of these would be worsened by climate hazards like heat waves, floods and drought.
For a group of people already at the bottom of the global heap in terms of life expectancy and availability of healthcare, these predictions of growing exposure and vulnerability are nothing less than mortal. Even at 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, tens of millions of people in East and Southern Africa will be exposed to diseases and death. Above 1.5 C, the risk of heat-related deaths rises sharply to at least 15 additional deaths per 100,000 annually across large parts of Africa.
The entire world needs to take urgent remedial action, particularly the developed regions, as they will also be impacted by what happens in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Already, with rising economic inequity and poor opportunities in developing countries, migration is a phenomenon that is hurting rich countries, at least politically.
Climate change is set to accelerate this even further and potentially to levels that could be unsustainable for even the most generous of recipient nations. In 2019, more than 3.4 million people were displaced in sub-Saharan Africa due to extreme weather, up from 2.6 million the previous year. For now, most of the climate-related migration has been within countries or at least toward neighboring nations.
But this number is likely to shoot up dramatically within the next three decades, according to the IPCC. With a 1.7 C rise in temperatures, up to 40 million people could be forced to migrate in this region. This would more than double to 86 million if the rise hits 2.5 C, which is far more likely.
The capacity of sub-Saharan Africa to absorb such large numbers of migrants is extremely low, if not zero. Thus, the flows of migrants to rich nations, notably in Europe, that have continued to increase since the COVID-19 pandemic began could turn into an unmanageable flood within years. This could be exacerbated due to conflicts over shrinking resources, notably water and arable land.
Despite Europe’s attempts to erect all kinds of barriers, thousands of migrants continue to arrive almost daily. Amid their desperation to escape misery back home, some pay with their lives.
Thus, it is in the interest of the rich nations to step up and fund the work that is needed for the developing world to deal with climate change and mitigate its impact. In 2009, rich countries committed to put $100 billion per year into this effort, but they have been remarkably stingy so far. The amount needed by the developing world to cut its own emissions and also mitigate the impacts of climate change is now estimated to be more than $5 trillion each year.
If the rich world does not open its purse willingly and urgently, it will only have itself to blame if a tsunami of migrants lands at its doorstep, costing even more to deal with than the effects of climate change.
• Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group.