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Climate change is not just about the climate, it is about our lives

Celia Aldana/Oxfam

By Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International.

As representatives from more than 195 governments around the world come together in Lima, Peru this week to work on drafting a global treaty on climate change, they should heed the words of Peruvian farmer Marisa Marcavillaca: “Climate change is not just about the climate, it is about our lives.”

Negotiations in Lima are crucial as they will set the stage for success or failure next year in Paris, where governments are due to agree a new international climate deal for the post-2020 world.

To set the stage for Paris, we need to get the details right in Lima, particularly on how developed countries will deliver promised funding to help developing nations address the climate crisis. Vague promises won’t help people adapt to the harmful effects of climate change, nor help countries to pursue cleaner paths to growth and development.

The central figure is $100 billion, promised by rich countries at the Copenhagen talks in 2009 and haggled over ever since. For people like Marisa who are on the front lines of the climate crisis, this abstract number has made little to no difference in their lives.

Climate change is already making people hungry

The reality is that climate change is already making people hungry and could set back the fight against hunger by decades. Over 80% of the production of staple food in Peru is extremely vulnerable to droughts, including corn, potatoes, rice, barley, beans, peas and wheat. Projections suggest that agricultural productivity in the Andean region could fall between 12% and 50% in the next decades as a result of climate change.

As Marisa, who is a leader in the National Indigenous Women’s Organization explains, “Extreme changes in the climate affect how much we earn and what food we put on the table for our children. If we don’t have enough money to buy food, we go hungry. Without enough money, we cannot afford to buy our children the supplies they need to attend school.”

We must act now

Climate change is already causing significant damage to global food production not only in Peru, but around the world. And things are going to get much worse unless we act now.

By 2050, 50 million more people — equivalent to the population of Spain — will be at risk of going hungry because of climate change. And there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five by then compared to a world without climate change — that’s the equivalent of every child under the age of five in the U.S. and Canada combined.

Farmers like Marisa are doing what they can to prepare and build their resilience. They have organised and learned what plants can help fight diseases in their crops. They have built reservoirs for when it is too dry and crops need water. They have worked with local officials to get support for repairing and adapting irrigation systems of greater efficiency so they can grow more crops with less water. But they can’t win the fight against climate change alone.

Action from governments at the negotiations has been far too slow, but there are clear signs of progress from all across the world. In September, millions of people took part in more than 2000 events across 162 countries to demand action on climate change. More than 400,000 people marched in the streets of New York City alone. They understand that action on climate means new green jobs, secure food supplies, and a future for all.

If progress is made on climate finance, poor countries could make spectacular advances in clean development. Ethiopia could lift millions of people out of poverty while avoiding annual carbon emissions to the equivalent of 65 coal-fired plants. Peru could increase its GDP by nearly 1% more than business as usual while halving its emissions at the same time. Indonesia could fulfill its plan to cut emissions by 41%  in 15 years.

The $100 billion climate promise can only be the start. What’s needed now is clear commitments on climate finance, focused on what developing countries actually need. A blueprint for progress on climate finance should:

  • Set out exactly how climate finance should be accessed and spent.
  • Identify new sources of public and private finance.
  • Establish a “fair shares” framework to mobilize the necessary financial flows and direct them to the right places.

These talks are not the endpoint. They are milestones on a journey that will take decades. But the Lima Summit can — and must — put us on the right track for Paris and beyond. Now is the time for our leaders to step up and lead.

Originally published on The Huffington Post