Climate change responsible for 300,000 deaths a year

Posted: 5 June 2009

The first ever report exclusively focused on the global human impact of climate change calculates that climate change today accounts for over 300,000 deaths each year, and that a further 325 million people are seriously affected by climate change at a total economic cost of $125 billion per year.

Climate change cover
Climate change cover
Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis is the first ever comprehensive report looking at the human impact of climate change. Based on the latest information and inputs from world-leading scientists on the human impact of climate change, the report was launched in London on 29 May by Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, who also contributed the Introduction to the report.

The report estimates that climate change today accounts for over 300,000 deaths throughout the world each year, the equivalent of an Indian Ocean Tsunami every single year. It also indicates that climate change today seriously impacts on the lives of 325 million people.

It projects that by 2030, worldwide deaths will reach almost 500,000 per year; people affected by climate change annually expected to rise to over 600 million and the total annual economic cost increase to around $300 billion, making it the biggest emerging humanitarian challenge in the world, impacting on the lives of 10 per cent of the world’s population.

High tide Tuvalu
High tide Tuvalu
On Tuvalu, where the highest ground is just 4.5 metres above mean tide level, islanders nervously await 'king tides', the year’s highest tides. Photo © FOEI/Gary Braasch
Economic losses due to climate change already today amount to over $125 billion per year. This is more than the individual GDP of 73 per cent of the world’s countries, and is greater than the total amount of aid that currently flows from industrialised countries to developing nations each year. By 2030, the economic losses due to climate change will have almost trebled to $340 billion annually.

The Global Humanitarian Forum commissioned Dalberg Global Development Advisers to develop the report in December 2008 by collating all relevant information and current statistics relating to the human impact of climate change. Within the limitations of existing research, the report presents the most plausible estimate of the impact of climate change on human society today.

Speaking at a press conference in London, Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, said: "Climate change is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time, causing suffering to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. As this report shows, the first hit and worst affected are the world’s poorest groups, and yet they have done least to cause the problem.

Referring to the forthcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, Mr Annan said: “I hope that all Member States will go to Copenhagen with the political will to sign up to an ambitious agreement to tackle climate change. To do justice to the basic needs of people around the world, Copenhagen must produce an outcome that is global, effective, fair and binding. As this report shows, the alternative is greater risk of starvation, migration and sickness on a massive scale.”

Flooding, Honduras. © BBC
Flooding, Honduras. © BBC
Flooding, Honduras. © BBC
According to the report, a majority of the world’s population does not have the capacity to cope with the impact of climate change without suffering a potentially irreversible loss of wellbeing and risk of loss of life. The populations most gravely at risk are over half a billion people in some of the poorest areas that are also highly prone to climate change – in particular, the semi-arid dry land belt countries from the Sahara to the Middle East and Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, and small island developing states.

Mr Annan was joined at the launch by report review panellist Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam GB and Global Humanitarian Forum Board Member. She said: “Climate change is a human crisis which threatens to overwhelm the humanitarian system and turn back the clock on development. It is also a gross injustice - poor people in developing countries bear over 90% of the burden - through death, disease, destitution and financial loss - yet are least responsible for creating the problem. Despite this, funding from rich countries to help the poor and vulnerable adapt to climate change is not even 1 percent of what is needed. This glaring injustice must be addressed at Copenhagen in December"

To watch a short video on the issues raised by the report, click below: