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The rich and the dead: UN warns of ‘climate apartheid’

The United Nations predicts that climate change will push 120 million people into poverty by 2030 – and only the rich will be left standing.

Greenhouse gas emissions

A shocking new report by the United Nations has revealed that the world is facing a “climate apartheid” between the rich and poor.

While the rich can afford to relocate to more habitable areas, the report predicts that climate change will push more than 120 million people into poverty by 2030 – and many more will die.

“Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger,” said Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.”

Climate change protestors

The price to pay

Most disturbingly, an Oxfam study has found that the richest 10% of the population are responsible for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. On the other end of the scale, the world’s poorest (3.5 billion people in 2015) are responsible for less than 10 per cent.

“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,” says Alston.

He explains that instead of putting their money towards preventing or reversing the effects of climate change, the rich can pay to avoid the problem.

“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.”

Alston believes climate change also poses a threat to democracy and human rights.

Even the best-case scenario of 1.5°C of warming by 2100 will see extreme temperatures in many countries, leaving disadvantaged populations with food scarcity, lost incomes and poor health.

“People in poverty tend to live in areas more susceptible to climate change and in housing that is less resistant; lose relatively more when affected; have fewer resources to mitigate the effects; and get less support from social safety nets or the financial system to prevent or recover from the impact,” Alston explains.

This is why, he believes, people in poor countries have died from disasters at rates up to seven times higher than those from wealthy countries.

For many – it will be a choice between starvation and migration.

Nha Trang poverty

How do we avoid this ‘climate apartheid’?

Alston calls for “deep structural changes in the world economy”, blaming not only governments and the private sector for their inaction on climate change, but also human rights bodies and the UN itself.

He asks for a safety net for workers who temporarily lose their jobs during the transition to a green economy, and he urges human rights institutions to “step up and engage determinedly and creatively with climate change”.

Alston acknowledges the enormity of the task but sees no alternative given the world’s current trajectory.

“Climate action should not be viewed as an impediment to economic growth but as an impetus for decoupling economic growth from emissions and resource extraction, and a catalyst for a green economic transition, labour rights improvements, and poverty elimination efforts.”

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