Oxfam urges action to protect poorest as analysis reveals world woefully unprepared for climate change

The most deprived English neighbourhoods have been 3.5 times more vulnerable to flooding than the most well-off over the past quarter of a century, Oxfam revealed yesterday as it called on governments to take stronger action to protect poor people from climate change.

The research commissioned by Oxfam comes after the UK's wettest winter since records began more than 200 years ago, which saw more than 5,000 homes and thousands of hectares of farmland across England and Wales under water.

While anecdotally many of the homes hit by the latest winter floods were not in the most deprived areas, the analysis indicates that this was in contrast to the bigger picture. It shows that almost one in five of the poorest third of neighbourhoods in England were hit by floods between 1990 and 2013. This compares to just one in 18 of the top 10 per cent.

The international agency is warning that as climate change is likely to increase the risks of flooding in the UK, the Government must act to protect vulnerable people at home as well as overseas from increasingly extreme weather and cut emissions to slow the pace of climate change.

Oxfam's intervention comes as the IPCC meets in Japan to discuss the increased risks people will face around the globe as a result of climate change. Oxfam fears that unless urgent action is taken to protect our food supply, climate change is likely to put back the fight against hunger by decades.

Sally Copley, Oxfam's head of UK policy, programmes and campaigns, said:

"This winter's floods dramatically demonstrated that people in the UK will not be immune from the effects of climate change. Around the world, climate change is hitting the poorest hardest and we must make sure this doesn't happen overseas or on our doorstep.

"Not only are poor people hurt most by extreme weather events, they are also most vulnerable to food shortages and price increases. In a world where one in eight people already go hungry we cannot afford to put off action any longer."

Oxfam has also carried out a global analysis of progress in ten important areas which reveals that steps to climate proof the food system are falling short. Problems include a lack of irrigation, a shortfall in agricultural research and development, a shortage of food stocks and a significant gap in climate funding so countries can adapt and grow enough food. Poor countries' adaptation needs are estimated to be around $100bn a year – equivalent to just five per cent of the wealth among the world's 100 richest people.

Already this year, the worst drought in a decade has ruined crops in Brazil's south-eastern breadbasket, including the valuable coffee harvest. In California, the worst drought in over 100 years is decimating crops across the state, which produces almost half of all the vegetables, fruits and nuts grown in the US.

Flood by Bob Embleton

Flood by Bob Embleton

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that's the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade. It is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices. Oxfam estimates world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change.

While temperature rises of just 1.5 degrees will have serious implications for our food system, the IPCC is also expected to highlight a global temperature threshold of 3 – 4 degrees, beyond which we will experience a runaway global food crises. We are on track to reach this threshold in the second half of this century.

Oxfam is calling for action from both governments and business to help stop climate change threatening the security and prosperity of the UK and making the poorest people in the world hungry. It is calling on the UK government to push the EU to cut its emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 as part of its climate and energy package. It also wants urgent action to shift away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy so that emissions can be slashed in the future.

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