A Global Ray of Hope for People in Poverty
By Tonya Rawe, senior advisor for policy and research in Food and Nutrition Security, CARE
On Dec. 12, 195 countries agreed on a way to tackle the climate crisis — together.
The Paris Agreement – hammered out at the United Nations climate negotiations known as COP21 – is historic. It’s the first time all the countries that signed the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have committed to taking concrete actions to address climate change.
I just returned from the negotiations and am honored to say I was a part of that history. As a food and nutrition security policy expert at the poverty-fighting organization CARE, I – and the people I work to support — have plenty of skin in the game.
Climate change is not a problem for the future. It’s a problem today. And it isn’t a problem that affects only a few countries or a few people – it affects us all. However, while its effects will hit everyone, they will hit – and are already hitting – people in poverty hardest.
Those living in poverty by and large are not responsible for the climate change we see today. Their greenhouse gas emissions are miniscule compared with those from wealthier populations and countries. Yet, they face the brunt of the consequences – like higher temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, shifting seasons, extreme weather and water scarcity. Because of their poverty, and a host of other factors over which they have little control, they have the least capacity to deal with the results. They live on the edge of crisis. Climate change threatens to push them over.
For CARE, addressing climate change and participating in the global negotiations is part of our mission to eradicate poverty, and particularly to end global hunger. Ours is a world in which 795 million people are chronically hungry. Climate change could drive that number up by another 600 million people by 2080.
CARE’s participation in COP21 brings a human face to the negotiations, because every day in so many poor communities around the world, CARE sees the need to support vulnerable people to adapt to a changing climate. It is, therefore, encouraging to know that the agreement 195 countries delivered in Paris will provide some support to the world’s most vulnerable communities and people, offering them hope and assurance that the world is committed to addressing one of the most significant challenges they, and we, face.
The Paris Agreement puts in place a system to ensure that countries reconvene on a regular basis to increase their individual and collective ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It makes clear that our shared goal is to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C, and that we should in fact limit that increase to no more than 1.5°C. It seems a small number, but the latest science tells us that a 2°C rise is not a safe world. With 1 degree of warming so far, we already witness more erratic rainfall, more extreme weather and retreating glaciers. The difference between 2°C and 1.5°C could mean substantial increases in heat extremes, higher risk of crop reductions in tropical areas, and greater reductions in water availability in sub-tropical regions like Central America.
The agreement puts adaptation to climate impacts, particularly for vulnerable populations, on an equal footing with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it recognizes the critical need for countries to collaborate to address impacts that go beyond what can be adapted to – impacts like sea level rise that result in loss and damage for island nations watching their countries disappear beneath the waves.
The agreement also recognizes human rights and gender equality as fundamental building blocks. We cannot take a step forward in tackling climate change if in doing so we step backward on human rights or gender equality.
The Paris Agreement is not the final word on a solution to the climate crisis – it was not intended to be. Rather, it lays out our path to success and with it, countries have the tools and the moral obligation to ramp up their mitigation ambition, speed up their transition to renewable energy, and support poor countries and vulnerable communities in their own efforts to adapt. Now it’s time for countries to work at home and internationally to secure the promises made.