The countries that generate the least emissions, that is, those least responsible for the climate crisis, are those that suffer the most from its consequences.
They are reportedly hit the hardest when it comes to food insecurity and nutrient deficiencies. Scientists warn that action must be taken immediately.
For years, environmentalists and scientists have been warning that the poorest countries, with a very low carbon footprint, are the most affected by the carbon dioxide emissions of developed countries.
The British development organization Christian Aid highlights this gap through a report:
“Hunger Strike: The Food and Climate Vulnerability Index” made it clear that the 10 most food insecure countries in the world generate less than half a ton of CO2 per person. Together, they generate only 0.08% of the world's total CO2.
“What really surprised and shocked me was the strong negative correlation between food poverty and very low emissions per capita ”, commented Katherine Kramer, author of the report. “It was much stronger than we expected.“
Burundi is the country at the top of the list. At just 0.027 tonnes it has the lowest per capita emissions of any country. The figure is so low that it is usually rounded to zero. In comparison, the German, American and Saudi averages generate the same amount of CO2 as 359, 583 and 719 Burundians respectively.
"As highlighted in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)", one of the main threats to human life as a result of the climate crisis is food insecurity, especially in the south of the world, where the population depends on small-scale agriculture and is more vulnerable to droughts, floods, and extreme weather.
“Burundi is a living testimony to the injustice of the climate crisisPhilip Galgallo, Director of Christian Aid for Burundi, wrote in the report. "Despite producing almost no carbon emissions, we are on the front lines of climate change, suffering from higher temperatures, lower harvests, and increasingly unreliable rains.“.
It's a similar story in the world's second-most food-insecure country - the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which also has the second-smallest carbon footprint. Temperatures are rising rapidly, posing an increased risk of livestock and crop diseases, and precipitation patterns are changing, leaving Congolese farmers uncertain about when to plant and when to harvest.
Risk of nutrient deficiencies
But climate change doesn't just affect crop yields and the ability to grow food. CO2 also has a direct effect on nutrients in crops.
A recent study in the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health exposed how climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduce the nutrient content of global staple food crops such as rice, wheat, corn and soybeans.
The study found that over the next 30 years the availability of nutrients critical to human health, including iron, protein and zinc, could be significantly reduced if we continue with our current rate of emissions.
“There will be a reduction of between 14 and 20 percent in the global availability of iron, zinc and protein in our diet"Said study author Seth Myers.
And the implications of this reduction are very significant.
“Iron and zinc deficiency today already causes the loss of around 60 million years of life per year, which is why they are already the cause of a large global burden of diseaseMyers told DW. "As a result of rising CO2 levels, hundreds of millions of people will be at risk of death from zinc and protein deficiencies and nearly one billion people who already have these deficiencies would exacerbate them“.
These deficiencies increase infant mortality due to diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.
“The people most affected will be in the south of the world, Myers says, because those who are most at risk of suffering from these nutritional deficiencies are those who have the least diverse diets and consume the least foods of animal origin, such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt ”.
“And that's a bit ironic, because they are the people least responsible for emitting the carbon dioxide that makes their food less nutritious.Myers added.
He describes it as a public health emergency and a moral crisis.
“There is no excuse not to act with the utmost urgency when it is our emissions from the rich world that endanger the poorest people on the planet“.
Responsibility to act
Kramer says there are a number of steps the developed world needs to take to address food insecurity and help address climate change.
“The first and foremost thing is to reduce your own emissions drastically and quickly", He said. "We can retire to our homes, with our fans and air conditioning. We have access to water supplies to help us cool off. It hasn't hit us the same way yet, but it's already hitting the developing world“.
Myers agrees. "We have to stop burning fossil fuels, we have to transition to renewables and move away from carbon dioxide emissions as quickly as possible and we have to feel that moral urgency behind that transition.", He said.
Another important step is to provide support to developing countries. Kramer says this can be financial or in the form of access to technology and education, particularly when it comes to early warning systems that allow countries to see when a disaster is looming so they can prepare for it.
Another step is to help developing countries improve their resilience and productivity.
Through the Paris Climate Agreement, almost all of the world's developed countries have already committed to providing resources to help developing countries combat the effects of the climate crisis, but there are no sanctions for those who do not comply with their promises.
This is why Kramer believes that people need to pressure their governments to deliver on their promises.
“If we don't clean up our emissions and solve the climate crisis as a global community, then those climate impacts are going to get worse and worse, and millions of lives are at stake.“.