Maasai children in Kenya. Creative Commons: Mark Robinson

Where will people be hardest hit?

Everyone will be affected by climate change. We have already loaded the atmosphere to levels of greenhouse gases that are unprecedented in human history. Barring the development of very advanced (and unpredictable) technologies we will have to live with, and adapt as much as possible to, the negative impacts of those concentrations.

The negative impacts know no national boundaries, they will affect every country. However, it is evident that those populations that have better physical infrastructure and higher socio-economic resilience will be able to withstand and/or recuperate from the impacts faster. Conversely those populations with poor infrastructure and less resilience will be more deeply affected and will need longer recuperation time.

Beyond this difference, what is critical to keep in mind is that the impacts will very much depend on the timing of when we bend the curve of emissions: we must soon achieve the turning point of emissions, reverting the current trend of increase toward one of decrease. Science tells us that we have approximately 4-5 years to achieve this turning point. After that we may not be able to keep average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and keeping the rise to 2 degrees Celsius will become more expensive. Breaching those temperature limits will have severe social and economic impacts on everyone, making it practically impossible to reach most of the agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

There is a clear collective responsibility here, but there is also a wealth of opportunities to be reaped from a decarbonized economy. Nations, cities, corporations and citizens are rapidly understanding that decarbonization is inherent in better health, more energy security, increased energy access, soil restoration, enhanced food security, and more liveable cities.

We conclude that unabated climate change will adversely affect everyone, but addressing it in a timely fashion will actually benefit all.