DURBAN – Before the Copenhagen climate-change summit two years ago, the two of us sat together in Cape Town to listen to five African farmers from different countries, four of whom were women, tell us how climate change was undermining their livelihoods. Each explained how floods and drought, and the lack of regular seasons to sow and reap, were outside their normal experience. Their fears are shared by subsistence farmers and indigenous people worldwide – the people bearing the brunt of climate shocks, though they played no part in causing them.
Now, two years later, we are in Durban, where South Africa is hosting this year’s climate-change conference, COP17, and the situation for poor people in Africa and elsewhere has deteriorated even further. In its latest report, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that it is virtually certain that, in global terms, hot days have become hotter and occur more often; indeed, they have increased in frequency by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world.
Moreover, the brutal paradox of climate change is that heavy precipitation is occurring more often as well, increasing the risk of flooding. Since 2003, East Africa has had the eight warmest years on record, which is no doubt contributing to the severe famine that now afflicts 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.
These are the consequences that a mere one degree of warming above pre-industrial levels has wrought. The UN Environment Program’s just published report Bridging the Emissions Gap shows that over the course of this century, warming will likely rise to four degrees unless we take stronger action to cut emissions. Yet the latest evidence demonstrates that we are not acting – the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Report 2011 reveals that CO2 emissions have rebounded to a record high.