Climate change is hitting the world's poor the hardest, IPCC co-author says

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a compendium of ways that global warming is already harming human populations from the equator to the poles. And in that report, one fact that emerges repeatedly is that the people suffering the most harm are overwhelmingly the most disadvantaged.

“Across sectors and regions the most vulnerable people and systems are observed to be disproportionately affected,” the report states. “Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises where climate hazards interact with high vulnerability. Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement in all regions, with small island states disproportionately affected. Flood and drought-related acute food insecurity and malnutrition have increased in Africa and Central and South America.”

This inequity is an affront to the notion of climate justice — the idea that the costs of climate change should be shared equitably between nations and within them.

Adelle Thomas, senior Caribbean research associate for the think tank Climate Analytics and a co-author of the IPCC's recently released Sixth Assessment Working Group II report, is an expert on climate justice. She recently joined Yahoo News’ "Climate Crisis Podcast" to discuss the concept of climate justice and how it relates to the new report.

Thomas said the report is a breakthrough for the IPCC because it is the first time the organization has cataloged the harm climate change has already caused, which climate justice advocates refer to as “loss and damage.”

The report, she hopes, will give momentum to efforts by developing countries to obtain more financing from developed countries to compensate for climate-change-related losses and to adapt to climate change in order to minimize future impacts.

A plant grows in a dry water hole in Kenya.
A plant grows in a dry water hole in Kilifi County, Kenya, in February. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The movement for climate justice “has coalesced around loss and damage,” Thomas said. “In this report, we actually report on losses and damages, which are the negative impacts and negative risks of climate change. And I think, you know, we have some really strong wording in there around losses and damages being experienced now, adaptation not being able to prevent all losses and damages, and existing institutions and financial structures not [being] sufficient for losses and damages that are being experienced now.

“What I think that this report does is, it really highlights that there's a need to focus on losses and damages, and shows how these are unjustly distributed,” Thomas continued. “I think it's really solid scientific evidence that adds to the advocacy work that has gone around climate justice. So there is scientific backing for the advocacy work.”