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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"Today's report is the first attempt to put a price on the weather changes"
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Anna MacGilvry, report author
"It is going to be the taxpayer and consumer that will bear the cost"
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Roger Bate, Institute of Economic Affairs
"To rely on the government to save us from this sort of problem is folly"
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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Disasters blamed on pollution
starving boy
The face of hunger: Act of nature, or of humans?
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Climate-related catastrophes in poor countries are likely to spiral out of control unless action is taken to tackle global warming, a leading British charity has warned.

The United Kingdom churches' development agency, Christian Aid, says in the next 20 years, up to 75% of the world's people, most of them in poor countries, could be at risk from droughts or floods.

It says the cost of so-called "natural" catastrophes, triggered by climate change, could be 6,500bn.

And it urges developed countries to make big cuts in their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

honduras flood
Hurricane Mitch comes to call
Malcolm Rodgers of Christian Aid said: "Nine of the past 11 catastrophes to which we have responded have been caused by extreme weather conditions.

"Country after country is being devastated by these so-called natural disasters, and we and others are simply picking up the pieces.

"The terrible irony is that the poorest countries are suffering, and we believe this is because of pollution by the wealthiest."

Environmental disasters

10,000 people died and two million were made homeless by hurricane Mitch in central America
Bangladesh floods affect 30m
Drought in Sudan affects 2.5m

10,000 died or disappeared in the Orissa cyclone in eastern India
Giant mudslides in Venezuela left up to 20,000 dead

Starvation threatens 16m people in the Horn of Africa and Sudan, and millions more face drought in northern India
Floods in Mozambique left 700 dead and 300,000 forced to flee from their homes. Estimated cost: 625m

Christian Aid has won the endorsement of several prominent supporters for its report.

Julian Salt, of the Loss Prevention Council, which advises the UK insurance industry, said: "The oceans have warmed, and they are going to get warmer.

"The world is already locked into a spiral of catastrophe. We have to get used to the idea that the costs of prevention will be less than the costs of coping with disasters."

Altered nature

Another of the report's backers is the MP John Gummer, who was environment secretary in the last Conservative government.

Mr Gummer told BBC News Online: "That figure of 6.5 trillion for the possible costs is breath-taking. But it's absolutely true.

"We talk of natural disasters, or acts of God, but they're the acts of human beings. We've changed nature.

women and camel
Drought stalks Ethiopia again
"I want to see the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on tackling climate change, built up so that we cut greenhouse emissions very substantially.

"That must happen especially in the developed world, and especially in the US, which produces 25% of global emissions.

"And if we start investing in the technology that's available, we could do a lot within the timescale necessary, and without the effects we fear."

Christian Aid says that ratifying and implementing the Kyoto Protocol must be no more than a first step.

Equal pollution rights

It says future carbon reduction agreements "must begin with the principle that everyone, be they in a rich or a poor country, has an equal right to the atmosphere".

"This means that people in developed countries should not have any more right to emit greenhouse gases than people in Ethiopia or India."

Its figure of a total cost of 6.5 trillion is based on a United Nations estimate that natural disasters cost between 5% and 9% of developing countries' gross domestic product.

There are those who will criticise the assumptions about climate change on which the report is based.

Not all scientists will accept that the extreme weather conditions and rapid warming recorded at the Earth's surface in recent years can be ascribed to human greenhouse emissions.

They question the reliability of the modelling on which future assessments are made. This modelling, they say, has difficulty simulating many important climate processes and should be treated with extreme caution.

Moreover, they say the cost of the damage to world economies, and especially those in the emerging world, of restricting carbon emissions could exceed the sums environmentalists say will result if the Kyoto Protocol is not implemented.

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See also:

10 May 00 | Sci/Tech
UK 'must make huge carbon cuts'
09 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
UK set to slash greenhouse gases
24 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
West warned on climate refugees
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