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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Red Cross warns on climate
Flood AP
The human price of Mozambique's disaster
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The world's largest non-governmental aid organisation says the developed countries' polluting lifestyles represent a massive debt owed to the poor.

The charge comes in the World Disasters Report 2000, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The report says the developed world's pollution is heating the planet, with potentially drastic consequences for all on Earth.

And it argues that everybody, rich and poor, should have an equal right to pollute the atmosphere.

The report says: "Reckless human use of fossil fuels - overwhelmingly by industrialised countries - has helped raise the spectre of climate change, which darkens everyone's horizon.

"But poor people in poor countries suffer first and worst from extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. Today, 96% of all deaths from natural disasters occur in developing countries.

Increasing disasters

"By 2025, over half of all people living in developing countries will be 'highly vulnerable' to floods and storms."

The report says this year's floods in Mozambique were just the latest example of climate-induced disasters. Others were the flooding in Bangladesh and eastern India, storms in Venezuela, and the effects of El Nino.

"When Hurricane Mitch hit Central America, the Honduran president commented: 'We lost in 72 hours what we have taken more than 50 years to build'.

"According to the re-insurance giant MunichRe, the number of great weather-related and flood disasters quadrupled during the 1990s compared to the 1960s, while resulting economic losses increased eight-fold."

Boys AP
Queueing for water in Orissa
The report acknowledges the recurrence of natural cooling and warming cycles in the Earth's history, but says humanity is now "moving beyond natural climatic variations".

It argues that all nations will have to live within "one global environmental budget", which will mean a drastic change from the situation today, when "industrialised countries generate over 62 times more carbon dioxide pollution per person than the least developed countries".

The report contrasts the monetary debts owed by developing countries to their wealthy creditors with the rich world's climate debt.

"By using fossil fuels at a level far above a threshold for sustainable consumption, year after year the carbon debts of rich countries get bigger."

It says the poorest states, the heavily indebted poor countries, are owed up to three times as much in carbon credits as they owe in dollars.

But the world's richest nations have amassed a climate debt totalling $13 trillion, the report says.

Compelling respect

The Federation argues for a policy to match the structural adjustment programmes imposed on many developing countries, which force their economies into line with Western norms.

It says there is a need for sustainability adjustment programmes, which would compel rich countries to respect the common environment.

Helicopter PA
A survivor of Hurricane Mitch is helicoptered to safety
And it endorses the idea of contraction and convergence, which would mean that citizens of every country, rich or poor, would be entitled to emit the same amounts of climate-changing pollution, an idea pioneered by the London-based Global Commons Institute.

Aubrey Meyer of GCI told BBC News Online: "This endorsement by the Federation, which is a fairly cautious group, shows that contraction and convergence is an idea whose time has come."

Some researchers still doubt that human activities are inducing rapid climate change.

They highlight the inconsistencies between the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface, which show rapid warming over the last century, and the data produced by satellite and balloon studies.

These show little if any warming, in the last two decades, of the low to mid-troposphere - the atmospheric layer extending up to about 8km from the Earth's surface.

Climate models generally predict that temperatures should increase in the upper air as well as at the surface if increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing the warming recorded at ground level.

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See also:

10 May 00 | Sci/Tech
UK 'must make huge carbon cuts'
16 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
UK warned of climate disaster
24 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
West warned on climate refugees
18 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Climate change warning
10 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Climate disaster possible by 2100
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