Storm clouds gather for climate change report

A major UN report on global warming is published today, showing that poor countries are most at risk from freak weather. Do industrialised nations have a responsibility to help them?

All over the world, strange weather patterns are forcing our attention on climate change. Last year, Cairo experienced its first snowfall in more than a century, Russia had its warmest December, and the widest tornado ever to hit the US was recorded.

Today, the world’s leading climate scientists will publish the most authoritative study yet into the impact of climate change, confirming that it has indeed left its mark ‘on all continents and across all oceans.’

The report, by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predicts that by the end of the century, the global temperature will have risen by 4.5F (2.5C). The impact of such an increase will hit the poorest countries the hardest — places like Africa, South America and Asia. In Bangladesh, rising sea levels have already contributed to the loss of mangrove forests which usually provide a buffer to deadly storm surges. In Bolivia, farmers living on the Illimani glacier have been forced into fierce conflicts over scarce resources as a result of the glacier’s melting.

In the light of such revelations, Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an article for the Daily Telegraph. In it, he accuses rich, industrialised countries like the US and the UK of making climate change worse by spending billions subsidising ‘dirty’ energy sources like coal and gas, rather than cleaner, renewable sources, like solar and wind power.

But the debate is complicated. Some developing countries, like China, are now the world’s largest CO2 emitters, and poor and middle-income countries account for just over half of total carbon emissions. Brazil produces more CO2 per head than Germany, and the lifetime emissions from developing countries’ planned power stations would match the world’s entire industrial pollution since 1850.

Green finger pointing

Who should bear responsibility for climate change? Some argue that developing countries like China, Brazil and India must actively choose to use less fossil-fuels, particularly as their poorest citizens — often living in flimsy housing and with inadequate health care — will be the worst affected by freak weather like floods and droughts. These countries have just as much incentive to act as richer countries.

But developing countries argue that they simply do not have the money to pay for defences against global warming. Besides, they must also contend with other problems, like poverty and disease. Richer, developed nations have a moral responsibility to come to their aid, making use of their far greater resources and technological abilities. They must, because the industrialised countries caused global warming in the first place.

You Decide

  1. Do developed countries have a duty to reverse the effects of climate change? Why?
  2. Is climate change the biggest threat to humanity? What other threats are comparable?

Activities

  1. In groups, come up with a list of everyday ways to reduce your use of fossil fuels, and a plan to use less of them in the future.
  2. Research the countries most affected by climate change. Choose one, and write a report explaining how and why it will be affected.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today.’Sir David King”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this climate change report affect me?
Yes. Climate change affects all of us, even if we live in areas less severely affected than places like Bangladesh. This report raises profoundly important questions about the responsibility that industrialised, developed countries have towards poorer countries, and whether our petrol-driven lifestyles may be contributing to the suffering and misery of millions elsewhere.
What can be done to help?
Lots of things — and putting pressure on governments to come to the aid of more vulnerable countries is vital to make change a reality. From small acts, like recycling, to major campaigns like Earth Hour – there’s no shortage of ways to get involved and show you care about the planet and its people. What great ideas can you come up with?

Word Watch

IPCC
In the past, The IPCC has been criticised. Its 2007 report contained an error that damaged the UN’s credibility — it mistakenly stated that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.
Dr Rowan Williams
He became the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002. Williams was known for his generally left-wing politics and liberal views on topics such as homosexuality, which caused controversy among some churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion. He is now chairman of the charity Christian Aid, who have published a report this week on the impact of climate change.
‘Dirty’ energy
The world spends £314 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, more than six times the amount given to renewable energy. The fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas, which release energy when they are burned. About three-quarters of the electricity generated in the UK comes from power stations fuelled by fossil fuels.
Developing
According to the UN, a developing country is a country with a relatively low standard of living, undeveloped industrial base, and moderate to low Human Development Index (HDI). This index is a comparative measure of poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, and other factors.
Earth Hour
It started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature, and has since grown to become an annual global event. The one-hour switch-off of non-essential lights every March 29 now includes landmarks around the world, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Big Ben in London.

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