What Costs 300,000 lives and $125bn Every Year?

farming droughtThe startling costs of climate change have been revealed.  ‘The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis', just released by the Global Humanitarian Forum, is the first global report to focus exclusively on the human impact worldwide, analysing how climate change will affect society. 

Currently, climate change costs 300,000 lives and $125 billion every year, a global assessment has revealed.  A further 330 million people are affected by climate change.

By 2030, the Forum warns, the number of lives seriously affected by climate change will have risen to 660 million, or 10% of the world's population. The annual death toll would be 500,000, from weather-related disasters, malnutrition or disease.

In economic terms, climate change already costs $125 billion a year, which is more than the total aid given to developing countries. That comparison is significant, because it is developing countries that are disproportionately carrying the burden. Overall, 99% of all deaths attributable to climate change will be in the developing world, and 90% of the economic loss. Since the fifty poorest countries contribute just 1% of global carbon emissions between them, this is a matter of human rights, and not just an environmental issue.

Sub-Saharan Africa, already one of the poorest areas on earth, is particularly vulnerable. Bangladesh is described as ‘ground zero'. The semi-arid countries of Central Asia are also at risk, and the Middle East will face even greater water challenges. Consequently, the Forum calls for a radical increase in funding for adaptation strategies. Aid for adaptation is currently less than half a billion, about one percent of what is required.

‘The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis' has been released to coincide with UN preparatory talks in Bonn, ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December. The Copenhagen summit will agree emissions targets beyond 2012, and is considered a watershed moment in the international response to climate change.

"Just six months before the Copenhagen summit, the world finds itself at a crossroads" said Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum. "We can no longer afford to ignore the human impact of climate change. Put simply, the report is a clarion call for negotiators at Copenhagen to come to the most ambitious international agreement ever negotiated, or continue to accept mass starvation, mass sickness and mass migration on an ever growing scale."

The Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum was founded by Kofi Annan in 2007, and is committed to building international cooperation on humanitarian issues.

Read the executive summary here, or download the whole report (pdf) here.

Other related features on Celsias:

How the economic meltdown and climate change are hitting Asia

The High Cost of Doing Nothing on Climate Change

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If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately.

Maurizio Morabito (anonymous)

Oh please...this has been so throughly discredited, not even Andrew Revkin believes in it...

A little research in the future and even a whiff of critical thinking might help

Written in June 2009

The figures are, out of necessity, approximations. That's as good as you'll ever get with something as complex as climate change. Its overall message is a vitally important one, and I think it's an angle that needs more work if we're going to expect policy makers to get Copenhagen right.

Written in June 2009

Charles M. 110°

Saying that climate change has already impacted these people's lives with any credibility is very hard to do. By its very nature climate change is a long term thing (20 years at least).

Climate change is very slow and is overwhelmed by any shorter term natural climatic oscillations such as El Nino. In any short term studies (ten years or less) El Nino etc will have far more impact than any long term climate change.

As Jeremy rightly says, the numbers are approximations and we don't really understand how the climate works.

If you want reliable information then extrapolating from approximations is a very bad idea. However, by choosing the data points it is a handy way to create numbers for alarmism.

Perhaps the message is really important, but surely if that is the case it can be backed by harder evidence and does not need to be backed with nonsense numbers.

Even if the 300,000 lives lost per year is more or less correct, it is worth reflecting that these are insignificant numbers when compared with:
* Over a million people that die every year of malaria - a treatable disease.
* Over a million people that die every year of TB - a treatable disease.

Written in June 2009

Good points, although I'm not sure I would call 300,000 deaths insignificant! The thing is, that figure will be half a million by 2020, and by the end of the century could make malaria look 'relatively insignificant'. The worst effects of climate change may still be avoided.

When you consider that nobody has really analysed the human impact of climate change yet, I think this is a ground-breaking study. Others will follow and refine those numbers and develop better methodologies, but time is not on our side.

Written in June 2009

Charles M. 110°

Sure it sucks a bit if you're one of the 300,000 but consider this:
* Currently about 150,000 people die of all causes each day.
* 300,000 people per year is about 0.5% of the death rate. If you're really worried about trying to save lives there are a lot more fruitful places to look.

Fire up a spread sheet and make a pie chart and you'll see how small these numbers are when compared with anything else (get a list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate)

In the end, everyone dies so the natural death rate should be about the same as the birth rate and it should be about the same as the population divided by longevity. ie approximately 6.3 billion/70 = 90million per year.

Half a million out of 90 million is still small potatoes.

Since we're currently running far lower than that it means we have a population wave of people that will get old and die out together. That means that at some time in the future we'll be dying faster than the natural death rate to make up.

One major problem with any medical technology that tries to put off death is that ultimately if fails. If you're born you will die. But huge amounts of resources get pumped into keeping people alive a little longer. On top of that, natural selection is being defeated making us into a species that requires more medical intervention to conceive, be born, survive childhood, later life and ultimately the degeneration of old age. Cure cancer and more people will die of heart failure, or vice versea improve heart management and more people will die of cancers. Like any arms race the only people really benefiting are the suppliers.

Of course that's the 50,000 ft species view. If you get down and personal it is a lot harder to think like that. Medical technology has saved my life twice. Once was for a semi-genetic fault which I have likely passed on to my children who will likely suffer the same problem.

Written in June 2009

I agree, we all need to die at some point, but don't get hung up on the deaths thing. That's just the worst end of it. The far more troublesome suggestion is that 300 million people are affected. As that rises, we could be talking about 10% of the world's people affected by climate change. That's people losing their homes, becoming refugees, going hungry or watching their children or their elders die. Deaths are just one part of the enormity of human suffering that climate change threatens.

Written in June 2009

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