The true cost of climate change

In this photo taken Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009, villagers walk on a parched land at Lahiripur in Sundarban delta, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Calcutta, India.AP

Christian Aid has published a new report detailing the devastating effects of climate change on some of the poorest communities around the world.

'Taken by storm: responding to the impacts of climate change' reveals the way in which developing countries including the Philippines, Brazil, Malawi and Bolivia are suffering the worst consequences, and underlines the need for world leaders to respond with urgency.

It calls for "decisive action to be taken at every opportunity" to combat the disastrous effects.

"Short-term adaptation is not enough. Structural change must come from binding commitments at a global level, and must happen now," it says.

The report is introduced by Lord Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Chair of Christian Aid. He recalls the flooding that caused chaos in the UK at the beginning of this year, but notes that though it was highly disruptive and shocking for us in the West, "for millions of people around the world, living with this sense of fragility is nothing new".

"Far from being a vague threat in the distant future, a warming world is very much a present reality," he warns. "Stronger storm surges, heavier rain, and scarcer resources are part of what countless people across the world live with daily, with far fewer resources to deal with it than we have.

"It is essential for us to remember the specific human faces of those who suffer because of climate instability. Countless communities and families in every affected region of Africa, Latin America and Asia, people with needs and hopes and anxieties like ours, are already forced to cope with circumstances whose difficulty increases daily, and so with the prospect of an extremely bleak future for themselves and their children if nothing changes."

The report shares stories of some of the individuals who are suffering as a result of what Lord Williams refers to as this "deep injustice", as a reminder that there are real people suffering, though we are often blind to it in the West.

Marina Acaylan is one of millions who lost their homes in the devastating typhoon that wreaked havoc across the Philippines last year, killing thousands. She used to earn a living by selling homemade rice cakes at the local market, but can no longer do so because the marketplace was also swept away by the storm.

Kenyan farmers Lilian and Alberty Nthiga are finding it increasingly difficult to grow crops due to a lack of rainfall and thus struggle to make ends meet, while Carmen Quispe Dermarca is having to cope with similar difficulties in Bolivia, where the Illimani glacier is melting.

Although people throughout the developing world are continuing to strive to protect their livelihoods, and are finding ways to cope with changing climates, the report notes that "short-term adaptation is only a temporary fix".

"The long-term solution will only be found when the global community addresses the root causes of climate change, and takes decisive steps to reduce emissions," it states.

"There is no doubt that climate change is significantly hampering development work, compounding the many struggles faced by people already fighting to free themselves from poverty's grip."

Martin Vilela of Agua Sustentable, a charity working in partnership with Christian Aid in Bolivia to help those struggling with water shortages, says: "We can't constantly be adapting. I think it's important that the communities find immediate responses to the changes, but we can't forget that this is a structural problem.

"[A] key area of our work is to show to the global community the reality of the they can realise that climate change is real and start to take action to find concrete responses at a global level.

"If this is not achieved, many indigenous peoples' way of life will be destroyed permanently," he warns.

Christian Aid's Senior Climate Change Adviser and author of the report Dr Alison Doig has reiterated the importance of immediate action from the world's leaders.

"People living on the front line of climate change are the canaries in the climate coalmine, but their plight is more than just a warning of what many other parts of the world can expect," she said.

"These are individuals paying the price for the actions of wealthy nations and people grown rich through continued dependence on polluting fossil fuels."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to publish its latest report on the impacts of climate change on Monday, which is expected to make clear the need for strong intervention.

"It is vital that politicians hear their voices and heed the warnings of the IPCC and make tackling climate change a priority if we are to pass on a safe planet fit for future generations," Doig concludes.

"The world must act decisively and urgently to reduce emissions, manage resources and protect the vulnerable. In this way, and only this way, will we have the chance for a future that is sustainable and fair for the poorest people in the world."