Guest Blog: Who is responsible for climate change?

By Julie Potyraj from George Washington University,

As extreme weather events occur more commonly across the globe, it is becoming apparent that the implications of climate change extend far past a change in the Earth’s average temperature. Though all countries will be affected, The World Bank cautions that poor countries are the most at risk for complications due to the changes in weather. Increasingly severe droughts, floods, and heat waves will hinder crop production and reduce the availability of safe water. Information collected by Global Agriculture shows that millions of people in the world’s poorest countries rely on either subsistence or commercial agriculture, so any changes in solar radiation, temperature, and hydrologic cycle could threaten their livelihoods. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crop yields, food prices, and overall food security will be negatively affected by climate change as well, though the exact impact is difficult to calculate due to a variety of determinants that include regional climates, agricultural practices, and types of crops.
Certain parts of the world, specifically Africa and Asia, are already suffering from extreme weather events. There has been a push to emphasize funding for climate “adaptation” in addition to climate “mitigation.” Adaptation is the preparation for the effects of climate change, while mitigation involves initiatives that obstruct the progress of climate change. It is no longer enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the future; damage has already been done. Many organizations, like The World Bank, are prioritizing disaster risk management and other immediate climate change adaptation strategies in order to brace for the effects of the Earth’s rising temperature in the world’s poorest countries; without adaptation, those countries are even more exposed and vulnerable.
Why? Because a slight change in the Earth’s temperature can result in immeasurable consequences on the daily lives of poor rural communities. Lower crop production, changing landscapes, and shrinking safe water supplies caused by the effects of climate change will hinder economic development and increase world hunger. Severe weather events facilitate the spread of disease. The damage that weather causes to infrastructure and rural environments makes it more difficult to provide people with the medical attention they need. If they are unable to cope with unstable soil conditions and unreliable water availability, rural families may be forced to temporarily or permanently resettle. However, migration can lead to political, social, and economic instability. Migration is an extreme and disruptive adaptation strategy, but it may be the only option for inhabitants of the most vulnerable regions.
Though agriculture is actually a contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions, the people most susceptible to the harmful effects of climate change are not necessarily the people with the power to mitigate the Earth’s rising temperatures. The following data visualization from MHA@GW, the online Executive Master of Health Administration offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, compares the nations that contribute the most CO2 emissions to the nations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Many of the most vulnerable nations are already predisposed to severe weather events such as drought and flooding. Unless developed countries take accountability for their contribution to climate change, the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities will increasingly struggle to adapt to its negative effects.

This graphic can be seen in a larger form here.