The world cannot delay climate action

Communities displaced by floods and fires need urgent help

Indian army personnel rescue flood-affected villagers on a boat in Jalimura village, west of Gauhati, India, on June 18. More than a dozen people have died as massive floods ravaged northeastern India and Bangladesh, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links. AP
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In no country anywhere on the planet are people immune to the effects of global warming, eventual if not immediate. Already climate crises today are unravelling lives, forcing people to flee their homes.

In parts of India and Bangladesh, for example, millions have been rendered homeless due to floods. The Brahmaputra, a powerful river and one of Asia’s largest, breached its mud embankments and in the past few days inundated 3,000 villages in India's north-eastern state of Assam.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, a country that is home to about 130 rivers, the situation is dire enough for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to state that the country might have to relocate 17 per cent of its population (160 million people) in the next decade if global warming continues at this rate.

In Europe, other weather extremes are playing out. Wildfires in Spain, with 500 firemen trying to extinguish the blazes, have burnt through almost 20,000 hectares of land in the country's north-west, bringing to mind the extensive destruction caused by fires in Australia, and on the US west coast in 2019-2020.

Ahead of the June 22 summer solstice – traditionally the hottest day of the year – an intense early heatwave has already gripped Europe. In France, outdoor events in parts of the country's west, in the Gironde region, have been banned as temperatures breached 40ºC. The Red Cross is reportedly distributing fresh water to the homeless community in Toulouse that don't have shelter from the heat.

Over in the UK, Friday was the country's hottest day this year. Reacting to the changed weather patterns, earlier this year, the UK changed how it defines a heatwave to factor in the increasingly frequent warm days.

Scientists are attributing many of these catastrophic floods, fires and heatwaves to climate change.

But as thousands of people are displaced involuntarily – becoming refugees not just due to war and conflict, but having to flee natural causes – solutions, in part, rely on richer countries to help climate-vulnerable communities in less developed nations.

The UAE is playing an important role in that effort. Ahead of the UAE hosting next year's big climate event, Cop28, President Sheikh Mohamed has pledged $50 billion to address climate change across the world after taking part in a meeting hosted by US President Joe Biden.

Even at this year's Cop27 in Egypt is bound to be pivoted around urgent solutions for climate change and helping those who become climate refugees.

The world is already grappling with a food crisis amid the Ukraine war. Hunger and poverty are cruel accompaniments to climate shocks. Ahead of marking June 20 as World Refugee Day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: "This year’s World Refugee Day affirms a fundamental tenet of our common humanity: everyone has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whenever they are forced to flee."

As necessary as it is to take action to alleviate humanitarian burdens such as hunger, climate action too cannot wait. Delaying it further will be hazardous on many levels, perhaps not least for the fact that it is bound to create more climate refugees than the world might be able to feed or house.

Published: June 20, 2022, 2:00 AM
EDITORIAL