The United Nation’s intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last week is a devastating assessment of the impact of global warming on human, animal and plant life. It warns that temperatures could climb up to five degrees by 2100, inflicting damage on every continent and wiping out a third of the world’s species. If the last century has taught us anything, it’s that our climate system is so complicated that messing with one part of it is likely to have big knock-on effects. So disruption of Earth’s weather systems from greenhouse gases will trigger dramatic changes in rainfall patterns. Powerful storms will be stirred up and wild swings in drought and flooding will put huge pressures on water supplies, with consequences ranging from “increased famine in Africa to thawing glaciers in the Himalayas”.
While much of the report apparently focuses on how particular regions will fare in a warming world, countries like India have reason to be particularly concerned by its conclusion that less-developed countries are likely to experience “more upheaval than developed ones”. It’s a cruel irony that the world’s poor are likely to be hit disproportionately hard by the catastrophic changes that will force billions of people to face water scarcity and hundreds of millions to go hungry. For it is an open secret that the poorest regions are least to blame for spewing the fossil fuel pollution that is pumping up global temperatures. In that sense, this report is also a reiteration of the fact that the major cause of global warming is the immoderate depletion of a disproportionate share of the planet’s resources by the richest countries.
It is deplorable that although they have the technology to introduce fundamental changes needed to save millions of people from hunger and disease and to check environmental destruction, there appears to be no incentive to apply them. Now with the writing on the atmosphere so clear, these countries must take the lead in using technology to combat global warming. For the harder climate change bites, the likelier it is that profound and possibly irreversible changes will occur.