Reuters published an article recently claiming climate change was one of the primary factors causing an increasing number of countries and peoples to face a humanitarian crisis. This is false. Although the number of people facing food insecurity, living in unsafe conditions, or being displaced from their homes may have grown recently, in every instance, the situation is caused by a combination of ongoing civil strife or armed conflict and poor economic policies. In a few instances, temporary but not historically unique extreme weather events have exacerbated problems people were already facing, however, long-term climate change is not a factor in the world’s humanitarian crisis.

In a Reuters article, titled “Climate change will fuel humanitarian crises in 2023 -study,” Diego Ore writes, “Climate change will accelerate humanitarian crises around the world in 2023, adding to the issues created by armed conflict and economic downturns, according to a study by the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC).”

Unlike Ore’s story, climate change is not the main focus of the IRC’s report, nor does the IRC in its rankings of countries facing humanitarian crises indicate climate change is the main factor driving hunger, displacement, and poverty around the world. Indeed, ongoing war, civil war, or long-term political conflict is the prime factor driving the humanitarian crises in almost each and every one of the 20 countries listed in the IRC’s Emergency Watch list.

Climate change plays, at best, a peripheral or even speculative role, with IRC trying to connect various extreme weather occurrences that impacted some countries on its list to climate change. Aside from a few specific extreme weather events cited in the report, like flooding in Pakistan, and drought in Somalia, any references to supposed climate change are vague claims like that  “climate shocks,” whatever those are, have occurred.

Historical evidence suggests climate change is not responsible for the few specific weather events that contributed to some countries’ humanitarian crises. Floods, storms, and droughts have been common occurrences across each of these countries’ histories. In addition, data shows no trend indicating that floods or droughts have increased in number or intensity in these countries as the earth has modestly warmed.

As discussed in Climate Realism, here, for instance, it is not uncommon for monsoon rains to bring flooding in parts of Pakistan. Indeed, some farm regions depend on seasonal monsoon flooding to replenish the soil. Contrary to many media reports, 2022’s flood event was well within the range of historical natural variability. 2022 was the wettest year, not of all time, but since 1961; a time when the world was in a modest cooling period. Some recent research concluded that “the summer monsoon rainfall is decreasing over central South Asia – from south of Pakistan through central India to Bangladesh.”

Also, although a severe drought has undoubtedly played a role in Somali’s humanitarian crisis, it is not the primary factor. As discussed in Climate Realism previously, Somalia has experienced natural weather patterns that have delivered multi-year droughts interspersed with years of above average rainfall that produced flooding. These patterns, not climate change, which is a longer-term occurrence, are responsible for current conditions. Evidence supporting the case for internal conflict and Somalia’s political fragmentation being behind rise in hunger in Somalia is the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya, the two north-east African countries which border Somalia, have also been affected by a regionwide drought in recent years. Yet of those three countries, over the last 30-year period of climate change, only Somalia has experienced declining food production. Data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show a substantial increase in cereal crop production in Ethiopia and Kenya over the past three decades, but just the opposite in Somalia which has suffered under a civil war since 1988.

Every country on the emergency watchlist is now, (like Ukraine, which made the list this year) or have for decades been in the midst of wars, internal political strife, institutional collapse, and political fragmentation. In every case long-term economic decline or disruption and government corruption or collapse has accompanied the conflict, see, for example like Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Venezuela. So, why did the IRC throw climate change into the mix of factors contributing to the humanitarian crisis. After all, the latter claim is not supported by the data. One suspects this is due to the fact that the constant drum beat of climate alarm is diverting attention and resources away from humanitarian crises, and toward fighting climate change. Fighting climate change does nothing to help starving, homeless, and impoverished people today.

In a world of limited attention spans, time, and resources, money spent ending the use of fossil fuels is not available for humanitarian aid, no matter how pressing. Indeed, the suppression of fossil fuel use further exacerbates the impoverishment of the peoples residing in the countries on IRC’s emergency watch list. That this is a problem is seemingly confirmed in the IRC’s report which notes:

There is a growing gap between needs and funding. Unmet funding requirements for humanitarian responses globally in 2022 totaled over $27 billion as of November 2022, $24 billion more than the funding gap in 2012 (FTS). Donors are failing to respond proportionately as humanitarian— and thus funding—needs grow.

By contrast, during the same time period, the amount of money spent by individuals, companies, and governments to “fight” climate change has increased by hundreds of billions of dollars.

As such, one can hardly blame IRC linking the penury, hunger, and privation faced by people in the most vulnerable countries to climate change, in the hopes of garnering a portion the tremendous amount of funding devoted to it, thereby alleviating present suffering. One might even excuse Reuters and Ore for being enlisted in this effort, which would explain why Ore hyped climate change in his headline and story as the primary cause of present humanitarian crises, rather than war and “economic turmoil,” factors which are examined in detail in the IRC’s report. Those two factors by themselves play a direct, non-speculative role in the disastrous conditions so many people around the world find themselves in.

Though the intent might be noble, the attempt to link climate change and the persistent global humanitarian crisis is false. There are good reasons to help people in need. Preventing climate change is not among them.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.


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