Climate change, a multi-headed monster

Refugees in Bangladesh suffering
heavy rains, a consequence of
climate change.
(Photo: G.M.B. Akash/UNHCR)

Sub-saharian Africa and South Asia, the poorest regions of the world and those that emit less greenhouse gases, are also suffering the most severe situation for the climate change caused by human activity, along with the least developed nations of Southeast Asia, according to the Social Watch Report 2012, that will be launched this week in New York.

“Countries with the most precarious economies are suffering the consequences of the pollution the more developed world is pumping out,” sums up the chapter referred to Benin, one of the most affected by the climate change.

“The ecological crisis – from resource depletion to pollution and climate change – has worsened” since the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development, warned the Third World Network, organization based in Malaysia, in one of the chapters of the Social Watch Report, titled “Rio+20: implementation is the key”.

Next, some abstracts of national contributions to the report related with the consequences of the climate change:


Bangladesh: Dire and imminent threats

Although Bangladesh discharges a minimal quantity of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, few other countries are more severely affected by climate change. […] The threats the country faces from climate change are dire and imminent. Mitigating them and promoting sustainable development will require decisive Government action informed by a long-term plan. While these efforts will be costly, particularly for such a poor country, developed countries, which
have been primarily responsible for climate change, have an obligation –expressed in the 1992 Rio Declaration – to assist countries such as Bangladesh in coping with its effects. […]

Bangladesh is responsible for less than one fifth of 1 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is also one of the countries most vulnerable to its deleterious effects. In the coming decades these are predicted to include extreme weather (e.g., tropical cyclones), increased precipitation, sedimentation and average temperature; overflowing rivers; coastal erosion; melting of the Himalayan ice cap; and rising sea levels. […] UNDP reports Bangladesh is already the country that is most subject to tropical cyclones

Climate change will reduce agricultural production and lead to a shortage of safe drinking water, thus challenging the country’s ability to increase economic growth and eradicate poverty. In the worst case scenario the rise in sea levels will displace millions of people, unless existing coastal polders are strengthened and new ones built. [National report by the organizations Unnayan Shamannay, EquityBD and Shamunnay.]


Benin: Natural disasters with no contingency plans

Benin has been badly hit by natural disasters that have caused havoc in agriculture, health and education, and it is only too evident that the Government had no contingency plans in place. […] There is general agreement in the scientific communit that climate change has increased the risk of this kind of natural disaster.

It has also been established beyond doubt that human activities are a factor in global warming. Benin is among the countries that release the least greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with emissions of only 0.3 to 0.6 tonnes per person in 2005 or a total of less than 2.6 million tones. […]

As the climate change situation worsens, flooding will become a chronic problem […]. In addition, there will have to be new strategies that improve agricultural production and at the same time reduce this sector’s ecological and social impact.

The allocation of resources to reconstruction work after the ravages of the flooding will inevitably hinder and delay development programmes. Funds that could have been invested in research, development and the implementation of more efficient production models will now have to be diverted to rebuilding the country. [National report by Social Watch Benin.]


Cambodia: Increasing vulnerability to natural disasters ya:

After 18 years of economic liberalization, Cambodia faces pressing economic, social and environmental challenges, such as increasing vulnerability to natural disasters […]. Cambodia is especially vulnerable to extreme weather and economic downturns, since it lacks a proper social safety net. […]

The strategies adopted by poor communities to cope with their decreasing income are tremendously harmful to their human dignity and well-being. For example, 55% of Cambodians in this situation tend to reduce the amount of food consumed; this is more common among the female population, since 64% of mothers and girls are reducing their food intake in order to leave more to the other members of the family. [National report by Silaka.]


Cameroon: The environmental alarm gets louder

One of the most pressing ecological problems in Cameroon is desertification. By the early 21st century the north of the country had been severely affected by this process and deserts were threatening to encroach on the jungles in the central region. In recent years desertification has intensified and brought with it soil degradation, food insecurity, rising poverty and massive migrations out of the arid northern areas. […]

The main problems that desertification is causing today are that sources of potable water in several cities including Mbouda, Kumbo and Nkambe are drying up; there is generalized soil erosion and a loss of fertility, which increases the risk of landslides and floods (as happened in the city of Bamenda, for example); there are floods and sand and dust storms in the north; vegetation cover is being lost; water reserves are being polluted; and soils are showing higher levels of salinity and alkalinity throughout the country including the tropical green areas. [National report by the Centre Régional Africain pour le Développement Endogène et Communautaire y Dynamique Citoyenne.]


Central African Republic: Ominous trends

The country’s most pressing environmental problems are water pollution, desertification and the loss of biodiversity. Droughts are now frequent in the north, northeast and eastern regions, which in the past were known for their agricultural production. It is increasingly evident that underground water reserves are being exhausted, causing a se vere reduction in productivity in these areas. […]

If current trends continue the forests will continue to shrink, even more land will become savannah and soil erosion will increase, gradually depriving people who cultivate crops or cut wood of their main source of income and increasing the risk of flooding. […]

In the long term we can expect the prices of firewood and agricultural products to increase, and poverty in cities and their periphery to intensify. Even more worrying, climate models predict that average temperatures will rise and droughts will become more frequent. [National report by the Action Group for Peace and Education for Change.]


Ghana: Climate change policies and citizen’s rights

Like other African states, Ghana is already experiencing the impact of climate change: hotter weather, reduced or increased seasonal rainfall, changes in rainfall patterns, flooding, sea surges, tidal waves and a rise in sea-level causing inundation and coastal erosion. The result is a reduction in food security, increased transmission of vector and water-borne diseases, significant economic losses through weather crises and the displacement of the population. […]

Data from 1960 to 2000 indicates a progressive rise in temperature and a decrease in mean annual rainfall in all agro-ecological zones. Estimates show that temperature will continue to rise in all agro-ecological zones […] except for the rainforest zone where rainfall may increase. Available data also shows a sea-level rise of 2.1mm per year over the last 30 years, indicating a rise of 5.8cm, 16.5cm and 34.5cm by 2020, 2050 and 2080 respectively. […]

There is already evidence that vital economic resources – the coastal zone, agriculture, and water – have been affected by climate change with adverse implications for women’s rights, poverty, health and livelihoods. […]

In the northern parts of the country, flooding in 2007 showed that the impact of climate change on development efforts is overwhelming. An estimated 317,000 persons were affected; 1,000 kilometres of roads were destroyed; 210 schools and health facilities were damaged; and 630 drinking water facilities were damaged or contaminated. [National report by Netright.]


India: Ill-founded growth leads to environmental disaster

The lack of long-term planning that has characterized India’s governments is seen clearly in its demographic growth and increasing CO2 emissions. […] The Government must fully support renewable energy sources and integrate climate risk management in development planning. If it does not, all future scenarios for the country will be murky. […] Over the last decade it has been hit by a series of natural disasters that have severely damaged the economy and depleted natural resources, threatening the livelihoods of millions. […]

Global warming has already had an impact: increasing cyclonic activity, rising sea levels and ambient temperature and precipitation changes are being reported and will worsen in the near future. Rising temperatures in particular will change the ice and snow patterns of the Himalayas, which will have a huge impact on the region’s ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as on the livelihoods of millions of people. […]

Whereas an Indian citizen emits an equivalent of less than 2 tons of carbon per year, a citizen of the USA emits an equivalent of more than 20 tons. Yet despite its relative poverty, India’s economy is already affecting the climate. In 2008 India was the world’s fourth-largest emitter of CO2.

As a 2002 Planning Commission evaluation of the State’s Pollution Control Boards stated: “Non installation of abatement mechanisms by the polluting units is a direct consequence of the absence of any effective punitive and deterrent mechanism in case of noncompliance.” [National report by Social Watch India.]


Nepal: Disastrous effects

Although Nepal’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is trifling (1,977.1 kg per capita compared to the global average of 3.9 tonnes per capita), it is in the forefront in terms of experiencing the disastrous effects of global warming and climate change.

Erratic, inadequate or excessive precipitation due to climate change has affected livelihoods in a negative way. The river systems that originate in the snow-clad Himalayan range supply water for drinking, cleaning and irrigation throughout the subcontinent of South Asia. The faster melting snow is expected to cause water scarcity in the entire region. There is also a looming danger of glacial lake outbursts.

Another threat of climate change is the gradual desertification of the agricultural area. The policies and programmes in response to the impact of climate change are scant in coverage and ineffective in implementation. Rather, these are focused more on dealing with the symptoms than with the root causes.

Nepal is one of the lowest energy consumers in the world, hence its contribution to environmental degradation due to energy consumption is also minimal. Its energy consumption level was 7.16 tonnes of oil equivalent per annum in 2007, which was mainly based on traditional sources of energy such as wood 72%, agricultural residues 5% and dung 7%. The remaining 16% was met from commercial sources (coal 2.4%, petroleum 9.9% and electricity 2.7%) and renewable energy was less than 1%. [National report by Rural Reconstruction Nepal.]


Nigeria: Alarming desertification and erosion trends

“Environmental degradation due to climate change” is one of the reasons why Nigeria, “blessed with many natural resources like bauxites, gold, tin, coal, oil, tin, forest and water land”, has 70% of its population “wallow in want”, according to Social Development Network, a civil society organization based in Nairobi.

The Government’s development initiatives have not managed to reduce poverty in the country and have also failed to diversify a petroleum-based economy, with a non-sustainable extraction-led growth model still being applied. This has led to severe environmental degradation, with alarming desertification and erosion trends. […]

Almost 350,000 hectares of arable land are being lost annually to the advancing desert. […] At the same time as it suffers widespread drought, Nigeria’s topography makes it especially vulnerable to flooding. […] Heavy unpredicted rains and other forms of extreme weather are among the risks of climate change due to global warming, thus increasing the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Severe flooding caused the displacement of nearly 2 million people in the northern region of the country in 2010.

Many other West African countries – including Benin, Ghana and Niger – were also severely affected by the disaster, which followed a large-scale drought and famine in the Sahel region and the Senegal River basin. [National report by Social Watch Nigeria.]


Pakistán: Squandering the potential for true development

Massive flooding in Pakistan in 2010 devastated an area of around 160,000 km2 and affected about 20 million people, most of whom lived and worked in the agricultural sector. They not only lost their homes, but also their livelihoods. It is estimated that more than 2 million hectares of crops were lost during the floods […]

Tibetan glaciers are retreating at an alarmingly high rate; in the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows; in the long run, once the glaciers vanish, water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril.

Another forecasts: freshwater availability is projected to decrease, leading to biodiversity loss as well as shortage of drinking water; coastal areas bordering the Arabian Sea will be at great risk of rising sea levels; crop yields are expected to decrease causing high risk of hunger and food insecurity; endemic morbidity and mortality due to diseases associated with floods and draughts will rise, while changes in coastal water temperatures will increase incidence of cholera; and the existing social inequalities regarding resource use will be aggravated, leading to instability, conflicts, displacement of people and changes in migration patterns. [National report by Civil Society Support Programme.]


Sri Lanka: Food shortages, floods and erosion

The impact of climate change is a major concern in Sri Lanka as well. For example, very heavy rains that continued from 2010 to early 2011 caused serious floods in many districts with huge losses in agricultural yields. This will intensify food shortages in 2011. Many reservoirs and waterways have been damaged and will require a large allocation of money for repairs. Erosion is making the soil much less fertile, so producers will need to spend more money on fertilizers. All these issues have led to increasing food prices, which are becoming almost unaffordable by the poorer sections of society. [National report by the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform.]


Sudán: Two countries, more challenges

The Sudanese territory faces some critical environmental challenges, including soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation and desertification […].The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has also identified two other major causes of desertification: climate-based conversion of semi-desert to desert; and degradation of existing desert environments, including wadis and oases, through human activity. [National report by the National Civic Forum.]


Tanzania: Habitats threatened

Environmental issues such as deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and air pollution are not given appropriate attention by the Government of Tanzania […]. Deforestation is one of the main environmental problems that threaten the country. Despite 40% of the territory being preserved in parks, forests are rapidly shrinking in some regions. Overall forest cover fell by 15% between 1990 and 2005, but deforestation rates have increased significantly since 2000. Also, there is concern about soil degradation (as a result of recent droughts), desertification and loss of biodiversity, with 22 of Tanzania’s mammal species – along with 30 bird species and 326 plant species – endangered as of 2001. Marine habitats are also threatened by damage to coral reefs caused primarily by the use of dynamite for fishing. [National report by SAHRiNGON Tanzania and LEDECO]


Vietnam: The vulnerability of a long coastline

Vietnam’s average temperature rose by about 0.5 - 0.7°C between 1958 and 2007 while the sea level rose by 20 cm. Its long coastline makes the country very vulnerable to the impact of climate change and rising sea levels, which are likely to affect the three pillars of sustainable development: economics, society and environment. […]

Any rise in temperature will have a huge impact on agricultural production. Poor rural communities have weak infrastructure and finances, making it harder for them to adapt to climate change. Global warming may also lead to more frequent and intense natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, droughts and saltwater intrusion. [National report by VUFO-NGO Resource Centre]


Zambia: Deforestation and sustainable development

Although the Government of Zambia has shown some concern regarding environmental challenges, the plans put in place lack coordination and have failed to create public awareness about soil erosion, loss of biomass, climate change and deforestation. The country has lost 6.3% of its forests in the last 20 years. High poverty levels and lack of alternative sources of livelihoods exacerbate environmental degradation resulting from the dependence of poor people on natural resources. […].

The consistent warming trend shown by mean annual temperatures for 1961–2000, for example, has had several negative effects, including limited crop yields and increased risk of malaria transmission at higher altitudes. The latter is especially important in Zambia, where malaria accounts for 47% of all deaths annually. […] The Government’s National Adaptation Programme of Action reported that drought and floods had increased in frequency, intensity and magnitude over the previous two decades. [National report by Women for Change]


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