Wealthy communities will be able to buy their way out of the ongoing climate crisis while the poorest will suffer the most, according to a UN report.
Even under the unrealistic “best case scenario” of 1.5°C warming by 2100, many millions will have to choose between starvation and migration, warned Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
He predicted a split between those able to mitigate the worst effects of global warming and those with no means of avoiding it, calling it “climate apartheid”.
And he added that the fallout from our rapidly warming climate would have disastrous consequences for human rights and democracy.
“What was once considered catastrophic warming now appears to be a best-case scenario,” Alston said.
“While people living in poverty are only responsible for a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change and have the least ability to protect themselves.
“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the rich pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world suffers.
“Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable attack on the poor.”
He cited vulnerable New Yorkers stranded without power or health care when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, while “Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and the electricity from its generator”.
The poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only 10% of carbon emissions, while the richest 10% are responsible for around half of greenhouse gases.
And a person in the top 1% uses 175 times more carbon than a person in the bottom 10%, according to a 2015 Oxfam report.
There have been positive developments, with falling renewable energy prices, coal becoming uncompetitive, falling emissions in 49 countries and 7,000 cities, 245 regions and 6,000 companies pledging to mitigate climate change.
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However, despite ending its dependence on coal, China – the world’s biggest polluter – is still exporting coal-fired power plants and failing to reduce its own methane emissions.
Meanwhile, Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro plans to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining, end the demarcation of indigenous lands and weaken environmental protections.
Donald Trump has blamed other nations for the crisis as the United States is the world’s second largest polluter.
“China, India, Russia, many other countries, they don’t have very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities…you don’t can’t even breathe, and now that the air is rising… They don’t take responsibility for it,” he said in an interview earlier in June.
Mr Alston also criticized the ‘grossly inadequate’ measures taken by UN human rights bodies to deal with the climate crisis, saying the ‘incremental’ progress was ‘entirely disproportionate to the urgency and the magnitude of the threat”.
“Checking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster,” he concluded.