June 25, 2019 3:52 pm
Updated: June 27, 2019 3:30 pm

‘Climate apartheid’ where rich survive and poor suffer a real possibility, UN expert warns

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There is an increasing risk of the world falling into a “climate apartheid” scenario where global warming segregates the rich and the poor through basic human rights, according to a report submitted by a UN human rights expert.

The author of the report, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, wrote that “an over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” 

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Alston outlines that even in the “best-case scenario,” hundreds of millions of people, most of them in developing countries, would face food insecurity, forced migration, disease and death. 

He estimates the poorest countries would take the burden of about 75 per cent of the costs of climate change, despite being responsible for just 10 per cent of carbon emissions. 

Alston estimates that with such extreme temperatures occurring in all of those regions, many would have to choose between starvation and migration. It could potentially push more than 120 million people into poverty by 2030, on top of the existing 780 million who already live in poverty, according to Alston. 

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

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Further criticizing non-governmental organizations, governments, businesses and even the UN itself for the inadequate steps taken so far to combat climate change, Alston’s warnings paint a similar picture to the warnings scientists and activists have been making since the 1970s. 

“Somber speeches at regular conferences are not leading to meaningful action,” writes Alston. “Thirty years of conventions appear to have done very little. From Toronto to Noordwijk to Rio to Kyoto to Paris, the language has been remarkably similar as states continue to kick the can down the road.” 

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Noting the devastating effects Hurricane Sandy had in New York in 2012, Alston points to how low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers struggled without access to power or health care while the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its own generator. 

In a 2017 report by Scientific American on how disasters affect migration patterns, researchers found that natural disasters had the effect of worsening inequality as the rich began to move away from those disaster-prone areas while the poor were left behind. 

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Even in Canada, federal scientists are warning that the climate is warming faster than the global average.

According to Canada’s Changing Climate Report, compiled by officials from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and Northern Canada is warming at three times the global rate.  

“While both human activities and actual variations in climate contribute to this observed warming in Canada, the human factor is dominant,” Marjorie Shepherd, director of the climate research division at Environment Canada told the Globe and Mail. 

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Despite commitments to reduce carbon emissions in the 2015 Paris Accord and other international treaties, Alston said the results have been ineffective, which has left the world on course for a destructive overall three degrees Celsius of heating.

“There is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change, and an increase in biblical-level extreme weather events appear to be finally piercing through the noise, misinformation and complacency, but these positive signs are no reason for contentment,” Alston said. “A reckoning with the scale of the change that is needed is just the first step.”

—With files from Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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