Climate-related disasters have cost half a trillion dollars since world leaders last met to discuss climate change

September 19, 2014
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Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit at risk of failing to help stop climate change making people hungry

(New York, Sept 19): The cost of weather-related disasters in the five years since global leaders last met to discuss climate change is almost half a trillion dollars ($490 billion) – three times more than for the whole of the 1970s, Oxfam warns today.

In The Summit that Snoozed? Oxfam says that more than 650 million people have been affected and more than 112,000 lives lost as a result of weather-related disasters since 2009. Since then, each year has been among the top ten most expensive on record. Poor people are being hit first and hardest by climate change. Livelihoods and crops have been destroyed, increasing food prices and leaving millions hungry. However international commitments to reverse the threat of climate change have stalled.

To galvanize global action to tackle climate change

The Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit, taking place next Tuesday (23) is intended to galvanize global action to tackle climate change. However, despite the UN Secretary General’s initiative, world leaders are expected to bring little to the table. There will be some promising plans announced by the private sector but, overall, Oxfam believes that the private sector initiatives lack the necessary ambition and scope to deliver a game-changing blow against climate change, offering no substitute for government action.

Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “World leaders are behaving as if we have time to play with but they are ultimately playing with people’s lives. Climate change is happening now, claiming lives and making more people hungry. The costs are mounting and delay will only make the situation worse.”

Nothing to increase ambition since Copenhagen

When leaders met in Copenhagen in 2009, they agreed to cut emissions but not by enough to avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius. However countries have done nothing to increase ambition since, despite plummeting costs of renewable energy. Some like Canada and Japan have backed away from their pledges altogether. The world is on course to warm by almost 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which will guarantee wide-spread climate destruction and hunger.

Leaders also agreed to provide $30 billion between 2010 and 2012, and then increase that so developing countries had $100 billion a year by 2020 to protect themselves from climate change. This has been a fail too. Very few countries have committed to provide the increase in funds they should have in the next few years. Oxfam estimates that, at best, a total of between $16 and $17 billion is flowing per year, but the figure is closer to $8 or 9 billion when creative accounting is taken into account. The Green Climate Fund, set up to channel these funds has so far, only had $1.1 billion pledged of the $15 billion that Oxfam says is needed to get it up and running.

A political vacuum

The political vacuum at the Summit is being filled by announcements from the private sector. Oxfam believes that most of these have short-comings, even those which are potentially ground-breaking like the “Africa Clean Energy Corridor”, which aims to connect half the continent to a greener grid but lacks concrete financial and company backing.

“Voluntary action by the private sector will not be enough on its own. We need strong political leadership and ambitious government regulations to catalyse the global action that both the science and a growing number of people around the world demand,” Byanyima said.

Put the world back on track

Oxfam is calling for the Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit to insist that governments re-commit to their 2 degrees Celsius goal, increase their near-term emissions reduction targets and agree new targets to phase out fossil fuel emissions entirely by the second half of the century. They must increase their climate finance to meet their target of $100 billion a year by 2020, and provide grants to the Green Climate Fund over the next three years totalling $15 billion. By Spring 2015, they must submit ambitious initial pledges for the UN Climate Conference in Paris at the end of next year, in line with their fair share of the global effort needed to put the world back on track to avoiding runaway climate change.

“This is the only way to keep our hopes alive of avoiding global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, and the 1.5 degrees many countries rightly demand for their very survival,” Byanyima said.

The role of the private sector

The private sector can help by pressing governments for better regulation, such as energy efficiency standards, more investment in renewables, cuts in fossil fuel subsidies and more climate finance. They must also cut their own emissions in line with the science and set targets to phase out fossil fuel emissions from their operations.

Byanyima said: “World leaders must work with and listen to companies who have shown willingness to be part of the solution. They must refuse the demands of others who are putting our world at risk in the name of short-term profit. They must take advantage of technological advances in renewables that offer real opportunity to shape a new, safer world.  Their leadership is urgently needed.”

Notes to editors

According to the EM-DAT database, the total damage costs for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and part of 2014 amount to $491, 827, 336,000 in 2013 constant prices. The whole of the 1970s cost approximately $160 billion in 2013 constant prices. The data is sourced from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at Louvain University, classifying the following disasters as climate-related: droughts, extreme temperatures, wildfires, storms, floods, mass movements (wet).  All total costs were converted from current to constant 2013 prices using this data.  Costs have increased since the 1970s due to more extreme weather, improvements in the reporting of weather disasters and increases in the number of people and the value of assets exposed to extreme weather.

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Contact information

For interviews, please contact:

Sue Rooks
Oxfam Press Officer at the Ban Ki-moon Summit

Melanie Gallant
Media Relations Officer
Oxfam Canada


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