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How will the other half live? For 3.5 billion, in constant peril

Oliver Millman

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For those of us feeling beleaguered by our era’s seemingly endless parade of war, plague and ethnonationalism, it may be tempting to greet a new climate report described by the head of the United Nations as “an atlas of human suffering” by curling up into the fetal position and shushing the bad news away.


Unfortunately, the relentless climate crisis does not care much for our other woes and is now lurching into truly dangerous territory, as the vast compendium of work gathered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past eight years demonstrates.


The report, anticipated with the sort of eagerness usually associated with a foreboding call from the doctor, is a catalogue of impacts already in train and those we can expect from the heating up of our planet through the burning of fossil fuels, taken from tens of thousands of studies.


The suffering outlined in the report is a “damning indictment of failed climate leadership”, according to António Guterres, secretary general of the UN. It is also a harrowing tale of rank injustice.


At this moment 3.5 billion people, almost half of the world’s population, live in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts, the IPCC found. These countries are generally poorer nations that have done little to contribute toward global heating and yet are bearing its brunt.


Africa, which has generated less than 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, lost 13.6% of its GDP between 1991 and 2010 due to climate change. Should the global temperature soar to 4C above pre-industrial times, Africa will endure an 118-fold increase in extreme heat events, while Europe will get just a four-fold increase.


Humanitarian crises wrack small island nations battered by storms, drought and sea level rise. Half of the world’s population already faces an insecure water supply and this will inevitably worsen. Millions of people face extreme poverty, withering droughts, larger wildfires and food insecurity. Vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus and water-borne diseases like cholera will spread.


It’s standard practice in climate-reporting circles to note there is no single point of disaster the world will trigger should we breach the temperature limits set by governments. We are falling down a worsening rocky slope rather than a sheer cliff face.


But the IPCC report does warn that should global heating pass 1.5C – an event on track to occur in little more than a decade – “human and natural systems will face additional severe risks”, including some that are “irreversible”. We are setting in motion consequences measured best in geologic time and our ability to adapt to such events is limited.


The report skewers a popular belief that we should simply adjust to the warming that will come our way, pointing out that the changes risk becoming so great, no sea wall or technological fix will save us. Governments may be fast at imposing sanctions on rogue states or shutting down people’s movement to curb a virus, but they’ve been slow to deal with a crisis that, despite being on the back burner for now, dwarfs any challenge humanity has ever faced.


Ditching fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy will save millions of lives, negate a cause of conflict (it’s hard to imagine nations using wind turbines as a casus belli) and help bridge the horrifying inequities sketched out by the IPCC. But dealing with this root cause of suffering is a timed challenge and we have left ourselves just a small window of time to act.


“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,”

Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, put it.

“Half measures are no longer an option.”



  1. According to research temperature rises will top 2.4C by the end of this century
  2. The world is still on course for climate catastrophe
  3. Charities demand radicalism in face of officials’ delay
  4. Climate talks with a familiar outcome
  5. An atlas of human suffering
  6. Rise in maternal deaths likely in Haiti, and UN expert speaks out on cholera


Additional reading

  1. USA Climate Change Action Plan
  2. EU Climate and Energy Framework and Roadmap for global climate agreement
  3. Stepping forward with public commitments for Making different sectors carbon neutral by 2050
  4. State capitalism and climate emergency
  5. The Climate Crisis and the Need for Utopian Thinking
  6. Europe Floods: Death Toll Over 110 as Rescues Continue
  7. Are the European floods linked to the climate crisis?
  8. An Open Letter to the People Who Are Trying to Kill Us



  1. “The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism”: Chris Saltmarsh interview
  2. This little planet of ours
  3. Every modern government need an oceans ministry.
  4. Climate Warnings: The Power of Canadian Environmental Art, Literature and Creative Activism
  5. How climate change is erasing priceless relics from our distant past
  6. New UN report ‘rings the latest alarm bell’ about climate change effects on nature and people
  7. Reap What You Sow: Using Food as a Technology to Mitigate Climate Change
  8. Changes [quote] – Pollution on our planet today is pervasive
  9. The voice of the wanjamii. Reportage from rural Tanzania, where water is unsafe.
  10. Key Risks Identified in the IPCC 6th Assessment Report
  11. Net Zero Goals and Rush For Carbon Credits

Published by Guestspeaker

A joint effort of several authors who do find that nobody can keep standing at the side and that “Everyone" must care about what is going on in today’s world. We are a bunch of people who do not mind that somebody has a totally different idea but is willing to share the ideas with others and to be Active and willing to let others understand how "today’s decisions will influence the future”. Therefore we would love to see many others to "Act today".

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