Oxfam and climate change

With climate change, the UN and international development, there’s a lot to get your head around. Here is our guide to some of the more frequently asked questions.

Around the world our climate is changing. Clean water is harder to find. Homes are being destroyed. And more people are going hungry because of it. Climate change is affecting us all but it’s the people in developing countries who are being affected first and worst.

While the challenges we face from climate change are enormous, so too are the opportunities. By tackling climate change and reducing air pollution we can empower poor communities to continue to develop on a low carbon pathway.

What are the issues?

The impacts of climate change are complex. Some times gradual, some times sudden, but nearly always hitting the poor first and hitting them hardest. But world leaders have not yet shown the courage and leadership we need to move towards a just solution.

  • World governments have offered voluntary cuts in emissions that, collectively, put us on a course for a catastrophic 3 - 4 degrees of warming.
  • Countries in sub-Saharan Africa could experience catastrophic declines in crop yields of 20–30 per cent by 2080 due to climate change, rising as high as 50 per cent in Sudan and Senegal.
  • Recent estimates suggest that as little as 10 per cent of the climate change money being made available to developing countries is actually channelled towards adaptation.
  • In Africa, many people, especially women, rely on being able to grow their own food to survive. But the changing climate is having a devastating impact on their crops. Changing rainfall patterns, longer and more severe droughts, floods and rising temperatures all are presenting real challenges to farmers, making it harder for them to know when best to sow, cultivate and harvest their crops.

Read: How women farmers in South Africa are adapting to climate change to feed their families

What needs to happen

Governments need to act now:

  • Keep the Kyoto Protocol alive. The Kyoto Protocol, the current global agreement to tackle climate change, is swiftly drawing to the end of its first stage. It is the only legally binding framework and needs to continue into a second period, as the stepping stone towards a fair ambitious and binding global climate agreement.
  • Developed countries must lead by increasing their current targets to cut emissions to more than 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
  • Agree on ways to raise the $100 billion per year to fund Green Climate Fund for climate action in developing countries. There are some real opportunities for progress this year, including the establishment of two new innovative sources of finance, a levy on global shipping emissions and a tax on financial transactions. This money should be spent equally on reducing the negative impacts of the changing climate and on helping communities find ways to adapt to the realities of climate change. 
  • Get the Green Climate Fund up and running with the needs and rights of women at its heart, and money distributed in ways identified by developing countries, not pushed upon them. 

Oxfam believes that climate change is a global problem, requiring a global solution – a UN deal that is fair to both rich and poor countries. We are calling on world leaders to support this.

The cost of inaction

According to the International Energy Agency, every year of delayed investment on low-carbon energy sources costs €300bn to €400bn at the global level.

  • Sea level will likely be 30-70 centimeters higher by 2100 than at the start of the century. Rising sea levels caused by global warming are likely to affect around 150 million people living in low-lying coastal areas, including some of the world's largest cities.
  • Scientific estimates indicate that by 2050 there will be a billion climate displaced people with one in every 45 people in the world a victim.
  • By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict 157 billion dollars in damage, according to estimates presented at UN talks.
  • Feeding 3 billion extra people could require twice as much water and could mean an 18% reduction in worldwide water availability for food growing by 2050. 

Why the UN?

The UN Climate negotiations can be slow and are at times imperfect but they are critically important. It is only at this global level that we will see the scale, collectiveness of action, and financial commitment, required to tackle climate change. The UN process is not a quick fix. It’s the long game, and it’s the right one. We can’t expect lightning bolt solutions but we can and should expect solid progress.

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Read about Oxfam's work on climate change on our GROW Blog channel