The United Nations recently released a Human Development Report that brings to light the global challenges of sustainability and equity. The report points out that although living standards in most countries have been rising, from now on if environmental deterioration and social inequalities continue to intensify, the least developed nations will show a downward growth by 2050.
The report stresses that the world’s most disadvantaged people suffer the most from environmental issues, are the most socially backward and are most likely to live in countries that lack the political power to uplift them with policy changes.
The Bad News
Each region of the world will face unique challenges associated with climate change. The report, therefore, gives a local as well as a global perspective. Sub-Saharan Africa will be most strongly affected if worst-case scenarios come to pass. The continent is already struggling with water shortages, air pollution and drought – all of these could be devastating for agriculture, combating diseases and poverty alleviation. The projections in the report suggest that maize and wheat production in southern Africa will fall sharply through 2030.
Asia is the next region that will feel the effects. Rapid economic growth has increased the levels of pollution. Beijing now has one of the worst air pollution levels in the world. Sulphur dioxide from coal-fired plants in China further exacerbate this problem by contributing to smog and acid rain. China has reported 20 million cases of respiratory illness and pollution has already resulted in 300,000 deaths.
The projected rise in sea levels is likely to affect coastal Pacific nations the most. According to the report, Bangladesh is likely to lose 11 percent of its land which would affect an estimated 15 million people. In the Pacific region, about 100 million people are at risk of becoming climate refugees by 2050.
Other report highlights include:
- Fossil fuels comprise 88 percent of energy supply in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the region has the lowest use of renewable energy in the world
- Water problems in the Arab states will affect 60 percent of its poor. They also have the highest dependency on fossil fuels
- Qatar emits nine times more than the global average and has the highest per-capita CO2 emissions in the world
The Good News
However, the report does offer some good news in terms of sustainable development. Sixty-eight percent of the world’s population think that climate change is a serious threat. Latin America and the Caribbean showed the highest levels of awareness with 95 percent of the people surveyed saying that global warming is serious.
Brazil leads the way in alternative fuels with sugar-derived ethanol. Countries like India, China, Bhutan and Vietnam are increasing their forest cover, and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has actually dropped 70 percent since 2009. The UN recommends a number of ways in which developed nations can lend a helping hand. One of the recommendations is imposing an international currency tax to bring electricity to the 1.5 billion people who currently live without it.
6 percent Hike in CO2 Emissions From Last Year
PwC recently released a report that states that carbon emissions have increased 6 percent globally since last year in spite of the economic downturn. India and China have seen large jumps contributed by cement manufacturing and the burning of fossil fuels. This, in conjunction with the UN report, sets a very grim stage for the Durban climate talks that are ongoing.
Image Credit: Smoke Stacks at a Cement Plant. Stef, Wikimedia Commons