Bangladesh, Myanmar, Honduras, Vietnam, Nicaragua. These are just a few of the countries already suffering serious effects from climate change.
The five lead the list of the countries most affected by climate change since 1990, according the latest risk index from Germanwatch, an NGO focused "on the politics and economics of the North with their worldwide consequences."
For Myanmar and Honduras, single storms — Cyclone Nargis and Hurricane Mitch — bumped them up the list. But for countries like Bangladesh, extreme events have become a constant danger. Just last May, millions were displaced when Cyclone Aila hit the low-lying country.
Globally since 1990, more than 600,000 people have died as a direct result of extreme weather events, the sort that are expected to become increasingly common as the planet warms, Germanwatch concludes in its Global Climate Risk Index 2010. The findings, released on the sidelines of the UN's climate conference in Copenhagen, relate directly to one of the most contentious issues of the talks — climate-related financial assistance from industrial countries to developing countries.
"Lack of substantial progress on the way to low-carbon economies is a key factor why many poor countries face a bleak future in face of more severe climate change," the report concludes. It calls for an increase in financial support from wealthier countries.
Threatened Island Nation Calls for Stricter Emissions Limits
The island nation of Tuvalu, whose very existence is threatened by climate change, made major waves this morning when it called for another big step from the developed world: a new Copenhagen Protocol that would set 350 parts per million as the global target for atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Until now, negotiators haven't considered a number lower than 450 ppm, equivalent to a temperature rise of about 2 degrees above pre-industrial times, but a growing number of climate experts and advocates have argued that 450 ppm is still too high. The current level is about 385 ppm, and the effects are showing, as the Germanwatch risk index reflects.
While other small island nations stood with Tuvalu in calling for the lower target, however, the developed world and some of the wealthier developing nations, such as China, vocally opposed the islanders' plan.
China was No. 10 on Germanwatch's list of countries most affected by climate change since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's first report in 1990, but it is also the world's leading CO2 emitter.
On Tuesday, a draft negotiating text leaked from discussions in Copenhagen caused another uproar among developing countries' delegations as it laid out a plan by which greenhouse gas emissions throughout the world would be reduced between 2020 and 2050, thereby requiring developing countries to cut emissions over that time rather than their preferred approach of simply reduce their rates of growth.
ActionAid's Raman Mehta on Wednesday warned:
The so-called Danish text "has a figure for finance only in the short term; there are no figures in the long-term. However, the mitigation goals are long-term, so there's a mismatch there and that's a pretty big flaw."
Assistance in Adapting to the Catastrophes
It is clear that developing countries will be hit first and hardest by the effects of climate change. All of the Germanwatch risk index's top 10 countries were from the developing world, and the authors admit that they didn't take into account people who "have suffered in different ways but have not died from the events" due to the lower reliability of such data. That means African countries in particular were likely far more affected than they appear to be in the report's indexing.
Drought, famine, floods, extreme weather events and the spread of invasive species — some vectors of diseases or posing risks to native flora and fauna — have already affected many of parts of the world and the increase in these events has been traced back to man-made climate change.
The question, then, is what will the rich countries, whose industrialized economies are a primary cause of these effects, do to mitigate the impacts of climatic changes on countries who are not in a position to adapt to them on their own?
The rich countries have talked about contributing to a "fast-start" fund of around $10 billion per year over the next three years. The U.S. is expected to offer to contribute about $1.4 billion of this amount. Sweden announced Wednesday it would donate $1.2 billion.
Some groups and developing countries, however, have called for commitments that are larger and more long-term. Oxfam believes at least $200 billion per year in new funds is needed if poorer countries are to adapt and, in the long-run, reduce their own emissions.
"We need to see this figure sparkling overhead in Christmas lights by the end of the summit. Its peanuts compared to the $8.4 trillion we found to save drowning banks," says Antonio Hill, Oxfam International's senior climate change advisor.
As a comparison, the Germanwatch report says $1.7 trillion dollars was lost due to the extreme weather events that occurred between 1990 and 2008.
It is also notable that Oxfam specifies "new" funds. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has dubbed the practice of developed countries moving existing developing funds into accounts for climate change adaptation "aidwash."
"The 'fast-start' financing that's being offered is money that's being pulled out of the development financial flows and being put in to the climate box, so it's not additional money," Mehta said Wednesday in Copenhagen.
Certainly the most controversial issue in climate talks both present and past, there is some limited progress on the financing issue.
French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed an initiative Tuesday that would impose a 0.005 percent tax to all financial contributions in order to make up the difference between rich countries' financing proposals and what is needed by the poorer countries to deal with the problems they currently are, and would increasingly be, subject to as the climate changes. The vast majority of financial transactions are by the residents, firms or governments of the world's wealthier countries.
Mehta noted, "We understand Japan is thinking of putting forth a figure at some point for long-term financing which is going to be substantial."
"What we need now," he said, "is all developed countries in the UNFCCC [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] to come out and say what is on the table so the negotiations can begin to move forward."