The BBC reported today that the British Red Cross has launched a rapid response disaster fund to allow it to aid people in stricken areas as quickly as possible, such as flood victims in Mozambique. On the flagship BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, David Loyn, the BBC’s ‘developing world correspondent’, said that ‘mounting disasters’ and images of suffering since September 11 had raised public awareness of the need for a fund to cover all disasters, rather than just specific ones [December 28, 2001]. But there was no mention of climate change in his report – the greatest environmental threat today, particularly in many regions of the developing world. The BBC’s online report suffers the same serious omission [http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1731000/1731245.stm].
We have already seen devastating loss of life and property in severe weather events that are arguably related to human-caused climate change. In 1998, hurricane Mitch caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people in central America. In 1999, a devastating cyclone hit Orissa, India – the worst in 30 years – leaving around 10,000 people dead. In the same year, 20,000 people were killed in floods in Venezuela. Two months later, severe flooding and a wave of tropical cyclones left Mozambique and Madagascar struggling to cope, with hundreds of thousands made homeless.
According to climate scientist Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, we are already in a new climate regime that has been ‘tainted’ by industrial society. ‘There is no longer such a thing’, says Dr Hulme, ‘as a purely natural weather event’ [The Guardian, 15 March, 2000].
The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising more than 2500 climate scientists and related experts, has warned that ‘climate change is likely to have wide ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health with significant loss of life’. The respected London-based Global Commons Institute estimates that there will be more than two million deaths from climate change-related disasters worldwide in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Damage to property will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. [Global Commons Institute, letter to The Guardian, 14 March, 2000. Full text of letter available at http://www.gci.org.uk/signon/signon.html#Guardian]
IPCC scientists completed their Third Assessment Report on climate change in January 2001. The main new finding was deeply disturbing: that the atmosphere could warm at twice the rate anticipated in their previous report of 1996. This could mean global temperature rises by 2100 – in the worst-case scenario – of almost 6oC. The predicted range of temperature rise of 1.4o to 5.8 oC was described by the IPCC as ‘potentially devastating’. Michael McCarthy, The Independent’s environment correspondent, remarked of the new findings on high temperature rises: ‘This implies absolute disaster for billions of people’ [The Independent, 14 November, 2000].
Write to David Loyn ([email protected]) and ask him why he did not mention the threat of human-caused climate change in his report. Ask him to address this threat more fully in future reporting; in particular, you could ask him to investigate the ‘climate debt’ owed to countries in the poor South by the rich North (see http://www.gci.org.uk/signon/indlet.html for more details on this serious and under-reported issue).
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