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Climate Change Report Masks True Depths Of Global Impact, Activists Say

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Climate change will have a bigger impact on poor, developing nations than Britain
Climate change will have a bigger impact on poor, developing nations than Britain

Climate change is set to change almost every aspect of life in the UK, according to a landmark government report - but as environmental activists point out, it's still the world's poorest countries that will be worst affected.

That's not to downplay the effects on the UK. The picture painted by the report is stark and dramatic.

Higher temperatures could see up to 5,900 more people dying as a result of hot summers, and the costs to the UK of flooding could rise to billions of pounds a year.

The UK will also face threats including water shortages, more droughts and diseases such as red band needle blight which could hit the timber industry in the next century, the assessment conducted for the government showed.

Admittedly the changing climate will bring some opportunities to the UK too, including the chance to grow new crops and even the possibility of more tourism as temperatures get milder, the report says.

But the risk assessment, released by the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, also admits that the developing world will be affected far more deeply, and be able to adapt far less easily, to the same process - and that could wreak havoc on our own ability to deal with the crisis effectively.

The report also admits that there is far more research that needs to be done.

"A considerable amount of further work needs to be done on international risks, and the National Adaptation Programme will take the global impacts of climate change into account," the report said.

That admission chimes with predictions by the UN that more than 1bn people around the world will be affected by climate change by 2050 - the majority in the developing world.

A recent visualisation of the impact of a changing climate by National Geographic also illustrated well just how serious the problem facing poor countries really is.

Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns of Friends of the Earth, is adamant that wealthy countries have a responsibility to help fund extensive research and planning efforts in the developing world.

"In a way we get off lightly in this country compared to other countries," Bennett said. "And yet it is the poorest countries in the world that will suffer most from climate change even though they have the least to do with why it's happening in the first place."

The cost of the government's project of which the report was a part was more than £2.8m - and it was mandated by the Climate Change Act as a matter of law, Bennett points out. Other countries in the developing world have neither the finances or the political will to respond in kind.

Those countries are also the least likely to be able to adapt to deal with extreme weather, including flooding from rising sea levels, and rising temperatures.

"There are two things that have to happen," he said. "Critically we do need to see the rich countries help put the facilities and funding in place to enable studies like this to be done in other countries and regions of the world.

"But actually what is then behind that is rich countries needing to provide the funding for those countries to adapt, both to support their low-carbon development but also to provide them with the money that's needed to adapt to climate change."

The cost may seem high, Bennett says - but it's nothing compared to what it will cost once the effects of climate change really take hold.

"We're talking around £200bn per annum," he said. "That's tiny compared to the kind of money that's currently being found to bail out the banks.

"The rich countries really need to live up to their responsibilities and start thinking about how they're going to find this smaller sum of money to bail out the poorest countries from the impact of climate change."

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