One of the many ironies of the global climate crisis is that the nations and people most impacted are the nations and people least responsible for climate change.

Since 1850, annual worldwide CO2 emissions have gone from 2.84 billion tonnes (bt) to 41.46 bt in 2022. Of that latter figure 37.15 bt is due directly to fossil fuel extraction and use. The rise has been greatest since 1955, when total emissions were 14.24 bt, of which 7.44 bt related to fossil fuel use.

Up until 1955, the vast majority of fossil fuel emissions emanated from the US (2.73 bt), and Europe (3.23 bt). In 2022 Europe contributed 5.1 bt (a fall from their peak in 1989), Northern America contributed 6.49 bt, China 7.2 bt and India 2.61 bt. The other major contributor was the rest of Asia (7.52 bt).

Before you start thinking that our contribution is minimal compared to Asia and China, think where all your possessions are made. Your phone, electrical goods, cars, clothing, most of the world’s steel, concrete, plastics, computer chips are all made in Asia (predominantly China, South Korea or Taiwan) and India. Our emissions have fallen as we have exported most of our manufacturing (and therefore most of our CO2 emissions) to Asia and India. The emissions from these regions are significantly of our own making.

But who is suffering most from climate change? Islanders in the South Pacific are seeing their homes swallowed by the sea. Crop failures in Africa due to climate change are impoverishing millions of people. Fresh water supplies are becoming increasingly salty as sea levels rise and in Bangladesh salty fresh water is causing high blood pressure, organ damage and even death particularly among pregnant women.

Extreme water stress is affecting countries that are home to a quarter of the world’s population.

While the poorest countries are clamouring for a change, the first-world north-western countries have been largely immune from the effects of climate change, but not any longer.

The damaging effects of climate change are not restricted to the direct impacts of wilder weather, or rising sea levels. Secondary impacts such as failing water supplies, crop failure, desertification, insect loss (particularly pollinators) and socio-economic effects such as famine, mass population displacement and civil unrest follow on.

Already the warning alarms are going off in the north-western countries. The US has suffered catastrophic floods and fires, the severity of which is directly attributable to climate change. Homes in some areas are no longer insurable. Populations in countries in the front line such as Bangladesh and central African countries are on the move to escape extreme heat and flooding. The migration crisis is only just beginning.

Crop failures due to temperature change, drought and pollinator loss are already affecting staple crops across the world and have led to an increase in cocoa costs most recently affecting Easter egg prices. World coffee supplies are also under threat, increasing costs for consumers and impoverishing underprivileged communities in coffee-growing areas.

Water shortages in Italy could result in tomato, rice and olive oil shortages this season.

Land erosion from flooding and sea level rises is affecting a number of communities around Britain including the oldest 9-hole golf course, at Alnmouth.

Rising temperatures due to global heating are causing a long-term increase in mosquito-borne virus infections, as recorded recently in Australia and, following milder winters, tick numbers are on the rise in the UK, causing an increase in Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Network Rail is spending £2.8 billion over the next five years to protect the railway network from the effects of climate change and extreme weather.

Climate change is real, its damaging effects are happening now even in the UK, and without quick and effective action, it will rapidly get worse. We are all affected.

Phil Shotton,

Ramsgate Society Lead on Environment and Climate Change