300,000 deaths per year, and that’s just for starters

A recent report from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum tells us that climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year. And if we go beyond simple death to count the number of people that are already impacted, the number swells to 300 million. The report, Human Impact Report: Climate Change The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge that the world now faces. Which, frankly, is saying something!

According the GHF report, economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125 billion a year — more than all the present world aid and could reach $600 billion a year by 2030, an interesting figure, given that standard estimates of the annual cost of stabilizing the climate come to about $200 billion a year, and few people are confident that the upcoming conclave in Copenhagen will actually generate a support package of that size.

But perhaps 2009 is the year of surprises. After all, this is no longer just a matter of hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods. Climate change, the authors tell us, also poses a threat to social and political stability. And indeed it does. The Italian environmental association Legambiente predicts that global warming will soon forced millions of people into refugee status, and Legambiente international coordinator Maurizio Gubbiotti notes that, for “For the first time, environmental refugees have outnumbered refugees escaping from war.

Oxfam, for its part, is stressing, in a report called Suffering the Science – Climate Change, People and Poverty, that ‘Climate change’s most savage impact on humanity in the near future is likely to be in the increase in hunger the countries with existing problems in feeding their people are those most at risk from climate change, and that multiple climate impacts could reverse 50 years of work to end poverty. As indeed it could, for that work almost always took place at the margins of the global economy, which after all had other priorities. And the efforts that will be needed to stabilize the climate or at least hold the chaos within manageable levels will be far, far greater.

Meanwhile, of course, the ice continues to melt. And a rather frightening new report in Science with the catchy title of Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback tells us that, once again, things are not breaking our way. Indeed, and very much contrary to the denialist optimism of the skeptics, the changing clouds may be very bad news indeed. Which of course means that the waters will rise even more quickly, inundating deltas and coasts around the world. Which brings us back to those refugees.

It comes to this. If our leaders cannot put a real support package on the table in Copenhagen, one large enough to turn us, North and South together, onto the road of trust and cooperation …

… well, weve got a real problem.