US Can’t Ignore That Climate Crisis Will Force 120 Million People Into Poverty
Mainstream discussions of the global emergency, writes a top U.N. official, are remarkably out of touch with the scale of the crisis and the economic and social upheaval it will bring
Climate change is making headlines this summer with record temperatures, devastating floods, and climate-related migration. But in the U.S., mainstream discussions about climate change are remarkably out of touch with the scale of the crisis and the economic and social upheaval it will bring. Political leaders have failed to put forward a vision for avoiding catastrophic consequences or protecting those most affected.
As U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, I recently released a report finding that climate change threatens the future of human rights and will impoverish hundreds of millions, including middle class people in wealthy countries. It will push 120 million people into poverty by 2030 alone, and could lead to a “climate apartheid” scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.
Yet, far from taking appropriate action, we are accelerating in the wrong direction. In the U.S., arguably the country with the greatest responsibility for climate change, President Trump has placed former lobbyists in oversight roles, adopted industry talking points, presided over an aggressive rollback of environmental regulations, and is actively silencing and obfuscating climate science. U.S. fossil fuel companies have long embarked on campaigns to prevent meaningful change and thwart any talk of binding emissions commitments, working to create doubt over climate science and doing serious damage to climate action.
This is not a crisis that can be met with incremental change that avoids rocking the boat. It requires fundamental transformation of energy, agriculture and industry on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately, the conversation in the U.S. has not caught up to the scale of the impending challenge. By withdrawing from the Paris agreement, the most promising (if inadequate) step in addressing climate change, the U.S. has ceded a leadership role on this issue and remained mired in denialism that every other country has put to rest.