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'The world is still being cooked'

A survey of top climate scientists published by Oxfam to try and influence the leaders of the G8 economic powers, says that 2 degrees of global warming, now considered economically acceptable and inevitable by the governments of the rich countries, would wreck the lives of 660 million people.

Poor people living in low-lying coastal areas, island atolls and river deltas, and farmers, are most at risk of flooding and prolonged drought. The scientists, all contributors to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), named South Asia and Africa as the areas that will be most subject to the effects of climate change.

Professor Diana Liverman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee advising the US government, said: ”If we do not make deep cuts in emissions now the changing climate will bring heat stress, sea level rise and more extreme drought and floods. Scientific observations tell us that the world is already warming and it appears that many of the most vulnerable people are starting to experience the impacts of climate change.” Oxfam’s report sets out some changes happening now:

HUNGER: Interviews with farmers in 15 countries reveal how once distinct seasons are shifting and rains are disappearing. Farmers from Bangladesh to Uganda and Nicaragua are facing failed harvest after failed harvest.

AGRICULTURE: Rice and maize, crops on which hundreds of millions depend, particularly in Asia, the Americas and Africa, are already suffering significant drops in yields. Maize yields will drop by 15 per cent or more by 2020.

HEALTH: Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are appearing in areas where populations lack immunity or the healthcare infrastructure to cope with them. It is estimated that climate change has contributed to an average of 150,000 more deaths from disease per year since the 1970s, with over half of those in Asia.

WORK: Rising temperatures will make it impossible for people to work at the same rate on hot summer days without ruining their health. This will affect day and hourly-paid workers most and reduce productivity.

WATER: Major cities dependent on glacier run off, including Kathmandu and La Paz, may soon be unable to function.

DISASTERS: Extreme weather events including hurricanes, fires and storms could triple by 2030. A record $165 billion was lost in the 2005 hurricane season – and poor people have no insurance.

DISPLACEMENT: An estimated 26 million people have been displaced by climate change, mainly by extreme weather and drought. Each year there are a million more. Rising sea levels have already forced out island communities from Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Bay of Bengal.

But the G8 leaders who met in Italy earlier this month were immune to these facts – the gulf between the science and the real world, and the fantasy finance world of global capital, is wider than ever.

After the summit Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International saw no results: “For Obama it was ‘yes we can’, for Berlusconi’s G8 it’s ‘no we won’t’. This summit has been a shambles, it did nothing for Africa, and the world is still being cooked. Canada 2010 is the end of the road for the G8 – all the promises they have made are due. They have 12 short months to avoid being remembered as the ones who let the poor and the planet die.”

Capitalism as a system is not opposed in principle to allowing people to die in order to sustain its own continuing existence, whether by war, hunger or genocide. As writer Naomi Klein said in a recent speech: “Capitalism can survive this crisis. But the world can't survive another capitalist comeback.”

Penny Cole
Environment editor
30 July 2009

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