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Climate change deadlier than cancer, widening gap between haves, have-nots, says new UN study

Global warming has had a negative effect on livelihoods, labour efficiency and increased energy consumption — all of which trigger a cycle of adverse climatic impact, the report says.

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New Delhi: The impact of climate change in some parts of the world is deadlier than cancer, according to a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Climate Impact Lab.

As a consequence, labour work intensity and overall energy use raise a few alarms, apart from the mortality rate, the study says.

The newly-launched Human Climate Horizons, a data and insights platform on climate change — under the Climate Impact Lab and the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office by the UNDP — said, “Because of human action, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is reaching dangerous levels, driving Earth’s temperatures higher and amplifying the frequency of intensity of extreme events.”

With temperatures soaring around the world due to global warming, there has been a negative effect on livelihoods, labour efficiency and increased energy consumption — all of which trigger a cycle of adverse climatic impact. This can further worsen global inequalities, and cause uneven development, the report says.

According to it, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by about 1.2°C since the late 19th century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said that to counter catastrophic health impacts and prevent millions of climate change-related deaths, the world must limit temperature rise to 1.5°C from pre-industrial times, which is already not considered very safe.

India itself saw its warmest March ever this year, and the third driest in 121 years.

The UNDP study points out the situation in Dhaka, Bangladesh where additional deaths caused by climate change (132 per 100,000 people every year) by 2100 can double the country’s current annual mortality rate from all cancers.

Moreover, deaths induced by climate change by 2100 will also be 10 times higher than Bangladesh’s annual incidence of fatal traffic accidents.

However, these patterns are not globally consistent. Depending on region and economic infrastructure, climate change affects different nations in different ways, the report says.

For instance, although increased temperatures and a warmer environment affect cardiovascular and respiratory systems everywhere, the effects will differ depending on whether a community has the resources to adapt.

Air pollution caused by emissions, which is a major deterrent to good health and even labelled “a silent killer” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week, has regional differences across the world map. Most deaths caused by air pollution are in the South East Asia region which stands at 2 million a year.

Comparatively, the European region sees only 5,00,000 deaths a year and the American continent sees about 3,00,000 deaths a year.

Impact on human life 

Severely hot temperature conditions affect the ability of humans to perform tasks efficiently, the report says.

“The impact of climate change differs across sectors of the economy with workers in high-risk, weather-exposed industries like agriculture, construction, mining and manufacturing most affected,” according to data from Human Climate Horizons.

Not only does this impact personal health, it further takes a toll on the nation’s GDP. In sectors like mining, construction and manufacturing in Niamey, Niger, for instance, extreme heat reduced annual working hours by 36, which took a 2.5 per cent toll on the country’s future GDP.

Future projections show that things are about to get much worse.

According to a previous report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), temperatures above 24 to 26°C are normally associated with reduced labour productivity. At 33 to 34°C, a worker operating at moderate intensity loses 50 percent of work capacity. This leads to heat stress and current projections point that this can trigger reduction in total working hours worldwide by 2.2 percent and global GDP by $2,400 billion in 2030.

This “heat stress” is also expected to be more pronounced in lower-middle and low-income countries. Moreover, agricultural and construction workers are expected to be the worst affected, accounting for 60 percent and 19 per cent, respectively, of working hours lost to heat stress in 2030, the ILO report says.

Increase in mortality rate 

Climate change does much more harm than just economic losses. Extreme heat exposure can trigger physiological mechanisms which causes critical impact on or even failure of one’s brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and other organs.

A Lancet modelling study suggests that climate change may increase the mortality rate due to excessive heat six times by the end of the century.

According to the findings from the UNDP report, climate change might cause mortality rates in Faisalabad, Pakistan, to rise by over 67 deaths per 100,000 people, surpassing the number of deaths caused by strokes. This would make climate change the third largest cause of death in the country.

Air pollution is another cause for concern, especially in India, where over 90 percent of India’s population lives in areas where the air quality is below WHO’s standards. The burning of crop stubble and vehicular emissions is in fact not just a Delhi problem, but persistently reflected in the pollution levels of other cities as well. As of this year, 132 Indian cities have pollution levels below the national standard which resulted in 16.7 lakh Indians dying in 2019.

Food security is another threat that looms large in the face of climate change. Changing weather patterns, rising temperatures disrupt crop cycles which can lead to food price inflation. It is estimated that the number of Indians at risk from hunger in 2030 is supposed to be 7.39 crore, which will be exacerbated by climate change, taking the number up to 9.06 crore.

India is the third worst-affected country due to climate-induced natural disasters. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment highlights that this past year in India, 2,755 lives have been lost, 1.8 million hectares of crop area affected and nearly 70,000 heads of livestock killed due to extreme weather events.

Consequential inequalities

Over the coming years, one can expect the gap between the haves and the have-nots to widen even further because of the uneven distribution of the impact of climate change. Those with air-conditioners or houses made of sturdy materials, might not have to worry about climatic impact than those who have more difficult living conditions.

Climate proofing cities is also essential to good governance in these changing times — to account for safety in the face of unchecked climatic conditions and disasters. In 2018 alone, India suffered infrastructural losses and damage of more than Rs 2.7 lakh crore.

A 2020 World Bank report estimates that an additional 68 to 135 million people globally could be pushed into poverty by 2030 solely because of climate change.

This could be caused by a variety of factors such as heat stress and bad working conditions, bigger exposure to floods, soil erosion, crop failures and other living conditions. At present, 29 percent of the world’s population live in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid aridity zones. These areas are undergoing greater challenges due to climate change.

Moreover, it is estimated that roughly two thirds of the global population lives in areas of extreme water scarcity for at least one month of the year.

This very concern is at present being raised at the current COP27, a UN climate summit. The controversial topic of climate compensation to the wealthy nations or High Income Countries (HIC) vs low and middle income countries (LMICs) by those who are economically more stable, which was dodged earlier, is now being raised again.

Officially, on the agenda this year at the summit, developing countries have long demanded a fund or finance facility to compensate for the losses and damages caused by climate change, for which they are not entirely responsible.

Loss and damage funding 

“Losses and damages” refer to the destruction that lower income countries have to endure when they are no longer equipped to tackle the adverse changes caused by the climate.

Vulnerable countries have argued that higher income countries are predominantly responsible for climate change, but LMICs suffer the negative impacts more. The US for instance, has emitted much more CO2 than any other country. It is responsible for 25 per cent of historical emissions since 1751, compared to the EU which stands at 22 percent.

The concept of “loss and damage” first came up at the Warsaw climate summit in 2013. Since then, lower income countries have been trying to secure funding for the same. At COP26, developing nations further vied to strengthen the Santiago network financially. Ultimately, that was met with strong opposition from the higher-income nations, and it was not adopted.

This comes in light of the recent Oxfam report that has just been released, stating that a billionaire is responsible for a million times more greenhouse gas emissions than the average person.

The report suggests that investments made by the world’s billionaires produce an average of 3 mn tonnes of CO2e per person. This figure is a million times higher than those who live in the bottom 90 percent (2.76 tonnes of CO2e).

The “investment emissions” can even be attributed to their personal use of private jets and yachts, other than just their financial capital in polluting industries. The COP26 summit is also well known for receiving 118 different business jets in Glasgow, unleashing a flurry of criticism for world leaders who travelled privately.

Also read: Adaptation too slow, COP27 must address loss and damage caused by climate change, says UN


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