Last week’s UN report announced climate change will impact people in poverty much more, and much sooner, than the wealthy. In a process experts are calling “climate apartheid,” the world’s elite can pay to escape the worst effects of global warming.
“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said in a statement.
Temperatures in many parts of the world are already becoming more extreme, affecting the health and food security of disadvantaged populations. According to the UN’s Human Rights Council, if this trend continues, it will force millions to choose between starvation and migration.
Alston warns even in the best-case scenario — an unrealistic 1.5°C of warming by 2100 — forced migration and disease will be inevitable. “It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work,” Alston said.
In fact, this “best-case scenario” was once considered a catastrophic level of warming. But with climate change pushed aside as one of many “issues” for governments to deal with, “catastrophic” has become the new normal.
The UN report exposes these countries — members of the 2016 Paris Agreement — for failing to meet even their current commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, their governments are still supporting the fossil fuel industry — with $5.2 trillion every year.
Alston points out the cruel irony of the situation: “while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves.”
“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
Solutions are possible, but will need to be dramatic — combatting climate change on the level it has reached will require a “fundamental shift in the global economy.”
The UN admits what environmental activists have been insisting for decades: the world’s governments have failed to seriously address climate change. Despite expensive marketing campaigns and thoughtful speeches, most countries are moving in the wrong direction — or not moving at all.
This report is making clear climate change is no longer just an environmental concern, it’s a human rights issue. It might even be the human rights issue. The UN declares climate change as an “emergency,” one requiring “bold and creative thinking” from the human rights community.
Alston reminds readers “there is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change.” But recently, extreme weather events on a “biblical level” seem to be finally waking people up.
The biblical metaphors don’t stop there: Alston is calling for a “reckoning” with the scale of change needed to prevent such a high level of destruction.
And that’s just the first step. The rich and powerful don’t have as much of a stake in the crisis to come, so government action needs to happen, fast. Policy change is necessary at every level. With “climate apartheid” on the horizon, it’s now or never.