IN NuNAvuT, CANADA, Inuit hunting is at risk as the ice thins. For many developing countries the danger is from rising sea levels that submerge coastal land or, in the case of some small and low-lying Pacific islands, the country itself. These people have contributed the least to global warming, but they are the most at risk; and the risk is increasing. Seven of the 10 deadliest natural disasters of the past 20 years occurred between 2000 and 2006. Since July 2007, the European Commission has spend £24.5 million aiding victims of disasters in Colombia, the Caribbean, Peru, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, North Korea, and the Sudan. The link between climate change and the intensity and frequency of natural disasters is now, finally, recognized.
As well as thinning Arctic ice and rising sea levels, global warming will also bring on heat waves that kill the elderly and sick. It will exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases, and heart problems, as body systems work harder to keep cool. And it will bring drought that reduces agricultural output and endangers water and food supplies. The heat will hit the developing world harder than it will the developed world. By 2020, between 75 and 250 million Africans will be without adequate water and sufficient food because crop output will drop about 50 percent. About 130 million Asians may also face food shortages.
A World Health Organization report says that climate change already kills at least 150,000 a year, and that the number will double by 2030. Global warming will increase infectious disease, particularly in tropical areas where increased temperature translates to increased mosquitoes and, thus, increased malaria, dengue, and other insect-borne diseases. Disease also affects the developed world, but richer countries can adjust to increased heat, and thus, reduce heat-stress related illnesses, by using new housing construction and air conditioning technology. Developing countries lack not only the technology, but also the financial resources and the public-health infrastructure.
Global warming, if unchecked, will have, at least, moderate impacts on world agricultural output by late in the 21st. century, but these moderate impacts are more likely to occur in the developed world. The most severe damage will start earliest, and it will hit the areas that can least afford it. Shortfalls in food will also probably create regional conflicts as nations compete for resources.
The developing countries will suffer first because many of them are located in lower latitudes, where temperature thresholds are already close to being reached. Slight rises in temperature can mean loss of already-scarce water and decreased agricultural capacity. These nations have the least economic flexibility, and greatest dependence on agriculture, particularly the subsistence type.
According to William R. Cline, of the Center for Global Development, and Peterson Institute for International Economics, climate change will decrease agricultural productivity 3-16 percent by 2080, but it will cut developing world output by 9-21 percent. Developing countries will lose an average of 9 percent, with Africa losing 17 percent, Latin America 13 percent, south Asia 30 percent, and 20 percent in Pakistan. Without carbon fertilization the percentages will be more severe. China stands to gain 7 percent in the carbon fertilization scenario. India's loss is almost incomprehensible, and could reach 30 percent.
China could have regional losses of 15 percent and a national drop or gain, the range being plus 7 to minus 7 percent. Developed countries in some cases can see increases of 8 percent from warming. Because developing countries are normally closer to the equator, they are closer to the thresholds where increases in warming will cut output, rather than increase output. Cline's numbers do not factor in the increased likelihood of pests, droughts, and floods. Cline notes that technology will allow continuing improvement in yields through the end of the century, but that demand will continue to rise, as well.
Pressures on agriculture are four. To meet population growth, agricultural production must almost double. As incomes rise, the demand for more meat will increase, requiring more food per capita. Increases in yields have been slowing for 20 years and probably will continue slowing. Ethanol will take up to a third of agricultural land from food production.
Developed countries such as the United States, Japan, western Europe, and Australia have moved beyond economic dependence on weather-dependent outputs. Agriculture, fishing, and forestry are less than 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. The United States might pay higher prices and lose its agricultural exports, but the Third World will suffer the most. The solution is for the Third World to industrialize, develop as rapidly as possible to free itself of climate dependency.
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