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NGOs win historic victory against French State for failing to tackle climate change

Wednesday 3rd February 2021

  • Court battle backed by 2.34 million people – largest petition in French history 
  • Landmark case will pile pressure on other governments to act faster 

A landmark ruling today has found the French State at fault for failing to take enough action to tackle the climate crisis. The decision by the French court will serve as a warning to other governments to do more to reduce carbon emissions in line with their public commitments, said Oxfam France, a plaintiff in the case.

In December 2018, Oxfam France, Notre Affaire à Tous, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Greenpeace France launched a legal action against the French State for failing to reduce the country’s emissions fast enough to meet its commitments. More than 2.3 million people signed a petition supporting the action – the largest in French history. 

It is the first time the French State has been taken to court over its responsibility on climate change. Today’s decision leaves the government open to compensation claims from French citizens who have suffered climate-related damage, and could force it to take further steps to reduce its emissions.

Cécile Duflot, Executive Director of Oxfam France, said: “Today’s decision is a historic victory for climate justice. For the first time, a French court has ruled that the State can be held responsible for its climate commitments. This sets an important legal precedent and can be used by people affected by the climate crisis to defend their rights. This is a source of hope for the millions of French people who demanded legal action, and for all of those who continue to fight for climate justice around the world. It is also a timely reminder to all governments that actions speak louder than words.” 

The ruling comes as many countries are preparing more ambitious targets to reduce emissions, as required by the Paris Agreement. Governments are due to meet in Scotland later this year for the COP26 climate summit. Scientists and NGOs say the targets already announced – known as Nationally Determined Contributions – fall short of the cuts needed to avoid catastrophic global warming. 

The French government’s proposed climate law is, by its own admission, not enough to achieve its target of cutting emissions 40 percent by 2030. Even this target is not enough to put the country on track to tackle the climate crisis, Oxfam France said. 

This decision also serves as a timely reminder to all European governments and the European Commission to take their international commitments seriously and to lead in the fight against the climate crisis. The current EU climate target of a 55 percent cut to emissions is ambitious, but still falls short of what is needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. 

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Head of Policy and Advocacy with Oxfam Ireland said: "Our own Supreme Court has already put the Irish Government on notice for failing to take adequate action on climate change, in a similar case. 

“Climate Case Ireland is the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest national court of law has required a Government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations. 

“It is essential that the new Climate Change Bill currently going through the Oireachtas is robust enough to ensure Ireland delivers faster and fair climate action."

The French State has two months to appeal the court’s decision. While the four NGOs have asked the court to order the State to take additional measures to fulfill its climate commitments, the court decided to reserve its decision on this point for later in the Spring, to allow for further discussions between the French State and the NGOs. 

Duflot concluded: “Following today’s breakthrough, we now hope the courts will compel the Government to take further steps to reduce emissions and ensure that France is living up to its commitments.”

Oxfam launched the legal action because the climate crisis is fuelling poverty, hunger and inequality around the world. Often it is the poorest countries that have contributed least to the crisis that pay the highest price. In September 2020, Oxfam revealed that the richest one percent of people produce more than double the emissions of the poorest half of the world population combined. 

Ends

To arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson, please contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes to the Editor:

  • In June 2020 Climate Case Ireland/ Friends of the Irish Environment took the Irish Government to the Supreme Court for failing to take adequate action on climate change – and won. For more information on Climate Case Ireland see https://www.climatecaseireland.ie/
  • In December 2020, EU leaders agreed on a new EU emissions reduction target of ‘at least 55 percent’ below 1990 levels by 2030. Oxfam estimates that cuts of more than 65 percent are needed for Europe to contribute its fair share of global emissions cuts needed to limit global heating to 1.5C.
  • This case in France follows a similar ruling in the Netherlands in 2019, in which the Supreme Court ordered the government to ramp up its emissions reduction target. There is also a similar case coming up in a Belgian court to enforce more ambitious climate policies. The number of climate litigation cases has doubled since 2017, according to a recent report by the UN Environment Program. As of July 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases had been filed in 38 countries. 
  • Oxfam’s report in September 2020, Confronting Carbon Inequality, found that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the poorest 3.1 billion people during a critical 25-year period of emissions growth. 
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10 brilliant questions you asked about our inequality report

Oxfam’s new report, The Inequality Virus, reveals that the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has increased by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began – more than enough to pay for a vaccine for all, and prevent anyone from falling into poverty because of the virus. We have received lots of great questions about the report – here are our answers to the 10 most frequently asked questions.

How can you be sure that Covid-19 will lead to a huge surge in inequality across the globe?

The IMF, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have all raised concerns that we will see a Covid-fuelled spike in inequality worldwide. 

These fears were echoed by a global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, where 87 percent of respondents said they expected an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic.

It is also echoed by what is happening on the ground in rich and poor countries alike. The richest in society have seen their savings increase during lockdown, but the poorest have seen their incomes fall and often had to borrow to survive. 

While it will be some time before we have the data needed to produce a concrete measure of inequality, everything points to an increase in inequality in every country for the first time since records began.

What is the link between wealth, inequality and poverty?

Our deeply unfair economies are enriching an already-wealthy minority at the expense of millions of poor people. Over the last 40 years, the richest one percent of the global population has captured more of the proceeds of economic growth than the poorest half of humanity combined. This inequality fuels poverty.

If the proceeds of economic activity had been shared more evenly, if governments invested in healthcare and education rather than slashing the tax bills of wealthy individuals and corporations, if companies prioritised a living wage for workers over bumper payouts for shareholders, if access to medicines and vaccines was prioritised over the intellectual property rights and profits of big pharma, then poverty could have been eliminated many years ago.

Why did billionaires’ wealth rebound so quickly?

Stock markets suffered the worst shock in their history when the pandemic was announced, destroying billions of dollars’ worth of financial assets. Central banks such as the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank injected billions of dollars to prevent a crash, the markets quickly rallied, and with them the fortunes of the world’s richest people who hold much of their wealth in stocks and shares. As a result, billionaires recouped their Covid-19 losses in just nine months while it could take the world’s poorest people more than a decade to recover. 

Why is Oxfam criticising billionaires and corporations for being successful and making a profit?

Making money is not the problem but excessive profits and extreme wealth are. These are the symptoms of a broken economic system which is benefiting a minority of people at the expense of everyone else.

Take the pharmaceutical industry. The US government invested $1 billion of US taxpayers’ money in Moderna to support the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Despite the fact that the company only has the capacity to supply vaccines for less than seven percent of the global population by the end of the year, it is refusing to share technology and knowhow that would enable other manufacturers to produce it. Moderna has also pre-sold all the vaccines it will produce this year to rich nations for a high price, leaving nothing for developing countries. This has made the owners of Moderna very rich indeed. This is exactly the kind of economic failure that drives extreme inequality.

Why is Oxfam criticising wealthy people such as Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, who have made multimillion-dollar donations to fund vaccine research, support hospitals and help those suffering during the Covid-19 crisis?

People who use their money to help others should be congratulated. However, charitable giving is no substitute for wealthy people and companies paying their fair share of tax, and it does not justify them using their power and connections to lobby for unfair advantages over others.

For example, US corporate philanthropy amounts to less than $20 billion a year but corporate tax dodging cost the US an estimated $135 billion in 2017.

Why is the pandemic hurting poorer people more than wealthy people?

In every country in the world, the poorest people in society have been hardest hit by the pandemic – especially women and people from marginalised racial and ethnic groups.

These people are more likely to work in sectors such as retail and tourism that have suffered big job losses as a result of the pandemic. These jobs are also largely in the informal sector, so they are less likely to have redundancy, savings or unemployment benefit to fall back on if they get laid off.

These people are less likely to have access to decent healthcare when they are ill. They are more likely to live in crowded accommodation or work as cleaners, shop assistants and care workers. This puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus, and they are more likely to suffer underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of dying from it. 

These are people like Jean Baptiste, a 44-year-old father of three and migrant worker at a meat processing plant in the US. The failure of the industry to implement proper safety measures has led to a series of Covid-19 outbreaks. When Jean became ill, he was told to continue working and hide his fever. When he died, the company failed to inform his family or his co-workers.  After his widow shared her story with the media, she received a card and just $100 in cash. Today she is struggling to support her children alone.  

Which governments are handling the pandemic well and which are handling it badly?

Governments’ catastrophic failure to tackle inequality means most countries were woefully ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic.

Millions of people have died or been pushed into hunger and poverty because of decades of failure to invest in public healthcare, protect workers’ rights or provide adequate financial support for people who can’t work. And while Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for some governments, others are still failing to act with disastrous consequences.

For example, the Kenyan government has responded to the crisis with tax cuts for the wealthiest and big business, but has provided little additional funding for public health or to help people who have lost their income as a result of the crisis. By comparison, Argentina has introduced a temporary solidarity wealth tax that could generate over $3 billion to pay for its Covid-19 response, including medical supplies and relief for small businesses and people living in poverty.

How can governments afford to implement all the measures Oxfam is calling for in the middle of an unprecedented global recession?

Governments will need to invest to get economies up and running, so the question is where should these investments be made? Oxfam is calling on governments to prioritise investments in areas that will deliver dignified, sustainable jobs, and not waste billions bailing out wealthy companies unless conditions are attached such as a requirement for the company to pay its fair share of tax or cut carbon pollution.

Building back fairer, greener economies will bring huge benefits for people and the planet. A study by Climate Action Network International found that investing in renewables in the US generates almost three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels. Yet, as of November 2020, G20 nations had pledged $251 billion of Covid-19 recovery funds to fossil fuel companies. 

Why is Oxfam calling for tax hikes at a time when tax cuts are needed to stimulate economic growth and job creation?

The idea that low taxes for the rich are good for economic growth and job creation is outdated. Gita Gopinath, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, recently came out in favour of one-off solidarity taxes on wealth and high incomes to help pay for the recovery, called on governments to introduce fairer tax systems and warned against a return to austerity in the wake of the pandemic.

A strong economy depends on an educated and healthy workforce, good transport connections, a strong communications network and the rule of law. All these things are paid for with our taxes – that’s why it is essential that everyone in society pay their fair share.

Does Oxfam want to abolish billionaires?

Oxfam believes billionaires are a sign of broken economic system and that extreme wealth should be ended. We believe that the world would be a better place if there were a lot fewer billionaires and a lot more nurses.  

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Mega-rich recoup Covid-losses in record-time yet billions will live in poverty for at least a decade

  • As Ireland’s billionaires’ fortunes increase by 3.28bn during pandemic - essential workers, often on minimum or low-paid wages, kept the country going

  • World’s ten richest men increase wealth by half a trillion dollars during pandemic  

The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, while it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, a new report from Oxfam revealed today. 

Mirroring this global inequality trend, Ireland’s own nine billionaires saw their fortunes increase by €3.28 billion since March – a tenth of which would pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for every person in the Republic of Ireland. Meanwhile, essential workers - such as our carers and supermarket and factory workers – cared for our vulnerable and kept our food supplies running throughout the pandemic -  quite often on minimum or low-paid wages. 

Oxfam’s The Inequality Virus report, published to coincide with the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Agenda’, highlights how Covid-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.  

A new global survey commissioned by Oxfam of 295 economists from 79 countries, including Ireland, reveals that 87 percent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic. This thinking was shared by 85 percent of Irish economists who participated, with most estimating it would be the worst increase in inequality in Ireland since the financial crash of 2008. 

Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly White male billionaires, to bounce back.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the deep divide between the rich and poor proving as deadly as the virus itself. Around the world the impact of Covid-19 is magnifying and exacerbating existing inequalities – as well as racial and gender divides. One of the most extreme and unjust indicators of inequality we are seeing around the world right now is between those who have access to life saving vaccine and those who don’t’. 

“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in safety, while those on the frontline— our shop assistants, healthcare workers, and factory workers — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, and often do not have benefits such as paid sick leave. 

“The world’s ten richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began —more than enough to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work. 

 “In Ireland, the fallout of the pandemic on employment has disproportionately hit young adults as well as people in low-paid occupations, all of whom are more likely to be paying rent. Without significant government intervention, we are looking at a return to long-term unemployment, increasing risks of homelessness and economic insecurity for younger generations in Ireland. 

“In addition, women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are yet again bearing the brunt. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare. 

“Long before Covid-19 disrupted our lives, in Ireland and across the world, women sustained our societies through their paid and unpaid care work. They continue to do so as we manage this public health crisis and as the social and economic consequences unfold. However, there is a lack of attention to gender equality in much of the economic decision making that has taken place since the onset of the pandemic.”  

Oxfam said the road to recovery will be much longer for people who were already struggling pre-Covid. When the virus took hold, over half of workers in poor countries were living in poverty, and three-quarters of workers globally had no access to social protections like sick pay or unemployment benefits. 

Clarken concluded: “Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice. Governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet. 

“The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts. Governments must ensure everyone has access to a Covid-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job. They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.  

“These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.”

ENDS

Oxfam Ireland spokespeople are available for interview. For interviews, images or more information, contact: 

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | 083 198 1869

Notes to editors

Download ‘The Inequality Virus’ and a methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report here

Oxfam Ireland are calling for the Irish Government to: 

  • Support the call for a global ‘People’s Vaccine’ to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are made a global public good—free of charge to the public, fairly distributed and based on need. 
  • Support calls for a tax on the excess profits earned during the pandemic by corporations the world over which could generate $104bn - enough to provide unemployment protection for all workers, and financial support for all children and elderly people in the poorest countries. 
  • Significantly increase investments in public services and social infrastructure, especially the care economy, while prioritising gender budgeting and the equality budgeting process. 
  • Bail out businesses responsibly. Priority must be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis. Any public support for large corporations should be conditional on measures that uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and build a sustainable future.   
  • Fulfil their commitment to develop a new set of indicators to monitor and progress societal well-being and reduce inequality, while ensuring that economic development remains within planetary boundaries. 
  1. Sunday Business Post analysis from November 2020 estimated the cost of purchasing Covid-19 vaccines as up to €300 million for an initial supply. Daniel Murray SBP Nov 8 2020.
  2. Eight top Irish economists responded to Oxfam’s survey from UCD, TCD and various think tanks and Government agencies. 85 percent of Irish economists who answered Oxfam’s survey thought inequality would increase in Ireland due to Covid-19, with most thinking it would be the worst increase in inequality since the financial crash of 2008. 
  3. For sources related to the tax on excess profits- U. Gneiting, N. Lusiani and I. Tamir. (2020). Power, Profits and the Pandemic: From corporate extraction for the few to an economy that works for all. Oxfam International.
  4. The financing gap to offer a social protection floor package in low-income countries is $48bn in 2020. ILO. (2020c). Financing gaps in social protection.
  5. More information on Oxfam’s call for a People’s Vaccine.
  6. During the week of 25 January, the World Economic Forum (WEF) will digitally convene the ‘Davos Dialogues’, where key global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021. 
  7. Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2020 Billionaires List. Because data on wealth was very volatile in 2020, the Credit Suisse Research Institute has delayed the release of its annual report on the wealth of humanity until spring 2021. This means that we have not been able to compare the wealth of billionaires to that of the bottom half of humanity as in previous years. 
  8. According to Forbes the 10 richest people, as of December 31st 2020, have seen their fortunes grow by $540 billion dollars since 18March 2020. 
  9. The oldest historical records of inequality trends are based on tax records that go back to the beginning of the 20th century.
  10. The World Bank has simulated what the impact of an increase in inequality in almost every country at once would mean for global poverty. The Bank finds that if inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient) increases by 2 percentage points annually and global per capita GDP growth contracts by 8 percent, 501 million more people will still be living on less than $5.50 a day in 2030 compared with a scenario where there is no increase in inequality. As a result, global poverty levels would be higher in 2030 than they were before the pandemic struck, with 3.4 billion people still living on less than $5.50 a day. This is the Bank’s worst-case scenario, however projections for economic contraction across most of the developing world are in line with this scenario. 
  11. In the World Economic Outlook (October 2020), the International Monetary Fund’s worst-case scenario does not see GDP returning to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022. The OECD has warned this will lead to long-term increases in inequality unless action is taken.
  12. Oxfam calculated that 112 million fewer women would be at risk of losing their jobs or income if men and women were equally represented in low-paid, precarious professions that have been most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis based on an ILO policy brief published in July 2020.
  13. All amounts are expressed in US dollars.
  14. Oxfam is part of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a growing global coalition of civil society organizations and activists that are holding the Global Protest to Fight Inequality from 23-30 January in around 30 countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Norway and the Philippines, to promote solutions to inequality and demand that economies work for everyone.
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Davos 2021: New Oxfam report highlights rising inequality fuelled by pandemic

Nur Jahan* with her daughter Ismat* is walking through the narrow alley beside her tent. Rohingya refygee camp. Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Every January, the wealthy leave their exclusive, gated residences, hop in their private planes and jet off to a Swiss ski resort in Davos to hear experts and politicians discuss a range of global issues.

The pandemic resulted in a different format for this year’s twin summit (Davos 2021 featured a mixture of virtual and in-person events) – but for many affluent attendees, a slight change to the proceedings were the only blip they’ve experienced due to Covid-19.

A new Oxfam report, published for the opening day of the World Economic Forum, reveals that the world’s 10 richest men saw their wealth increase by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic, while the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months.

Meanwhile, it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest – people like carers, factory workers and cleaners – to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

A woman works on a clothing line making winter jackets for an international brand in a garment factory in Dong Nai province, Vietnam. Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Oxfam commissioned a survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, including Ireland, and found that 87 percent of respondents expect an “increase” or a “major increase” in income inequality in their country as a result of Covid-19. This finding was echoed by 85 percent of the Irish economists surveyed, with the majority believing it would result in the worst rise in inequality in Ireland since the 2008 financial crash.

Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000 billionaires to recover.

Closer to home, Ireland’s own nine billionaires saw their fortunes increase by €3.28 billion since March – a tenth of which would pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for every person in the Republic of Ireland. Meanwhile, essential workers - such as our carers and supermarket and factory workers – cared for our vulnerable and kept our food supplies running throughout the pandemic -  quite often on minimum or low-paid wages. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said:

“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in safety, while those on the frontline – our shop assistants, healthcare workers, and factory workers – are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, and often do not have benefits such as paid sick leave.

“The world’s 10 richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began – more than enough to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work.”

The road to recovery will be much longer for people who were already struggling before the pandemic. When the virus took hold, more than half of workers in poor countries were living in poverty, and three-quarters of workers worldwide had no access to social protections such as sick pay or unemployment benefits.

The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts. Governments must ensure everyone has access to a Covid-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job. They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.

These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.

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The island nations battling the rising tide of climate change

Kiribati resident Maria Tekaie stands on the beach by a fallen palm tree, close by to where her family used to live. Parts of her village now lie underneath the ocean in the background. Photo: Ula Majewski/Oxfam

Hurricanes. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Flash floods. Cyclones.

These are some of the words or terms we usually associate with climate change.

The ferocity and intensity of these extreme weather events always get our attention – at least until the news coverage fades. But behind the dramatic headlines of major weather events, some communities have been left to deal with the long-term, insidious effects of climate change for years.

Although the unfolding disasters threatening these communities are as dangerous to lives and livelihoods as any sudden, one-off event, the seemingly glacial pace of these ticking timebombs means that such stories rarely get the attention they deserve.

This is just one of those stories.

In the central Pacific Ocean, the sprawling island nation of Kiribati is under siege from rising sea levels. Comprising 33 coral atolls (ringed islands which enclose a lagoon) and scattered across approximately 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean, the future of Kiribati is on a knife edge.

Most of its islands stand at just 1.8 metres above sea level. High tides lead to flooding which can contaminate the water supplies for weeks – even months. Another risk emerges when waves wash over the islands, destroying houses and crops, and inundating precious groundwater supplies with seawater. Groundwater contamination can cause illness, particularly among children. Infantile diarrhoea is believed to contribute to the high rate of infant mortality in Kiribati.

The residents of Kiribati are not the only people witnessing rising sea levels due to melting glaciers and ice sheets. The South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, where the land rises just a few metres above sea level, also finds itself trying to stave off an encroaching ocean.

It is not just the security of people’s homes, crops and already-scarce water resources that is on the line – Tuvalu’s very existence is under threat from climate change. The 11,000 people living on this tiny archipelago, which covers just 26 square kilometres, fear a loss of culture and of their ties to their land. They also fear for the future should they be forced to leave their ancestral home. Most of them do not want to migrate to seek new lives other countries.

To combat the rising tide, some communities have built flood walls or moved further inland to protect themselves. They collect rainwater and grow crops in between increasingly prolonged periods of drought. But even then, they cannot truly escape the impacts of climate change.

One of the many Pacific Islands facing an uncertain future. Photo: Ula Majewski/Oxfam

With the oceans continuing to absorb most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases, sea temperatures continue to rise. In 2019, scientists warned that the world's oceans were warming at an alarming rate of five Hiroshima bombs of heat every second. This has a major impact on fish, one of the islanders’ main sources of food. Recent research has shown that as the oceans warm, the fish that people living close to the equator rely on, for both their survival and livelihood, are migrating towards the poles and cooler waters. In the short term, this means fewer fish. In the long term, it will result in heightened levels of food insecurity for these communities.

While it is important to recognise the magnitude of these problems, we cannot – and should not – lose hope. Adaptation measures such as mangrove planting have been successfully piloted in Kiribati and Tuvalu. Mangroves not only protect coasts from erosion, they provide vital ecosystems for marine life and mitigate climate change by acting as sinks for excess carbon in the atmosphere.

But there is much more to do. If we, as a global community, want to protect communities like the Pacific Islanders, we must decarbonise – but we must act fast. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is only half the battle; we must get to a point of negative emissions where we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to stabilise global warming to within 1.5°C, the target committed to by signatories of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

This must be the decade when world leaders step up to protect our planet and its people. Otherwise, we all face an unimaginable future.

Oxfam works with communities around the world in the fight against climate change. We support people by providing them with training in climate-resilient farming, alternative income generation and adaptation measures. We build solar-powered water pumps in areas experiencing drought and work with communities like the Pacific Islanders to lobby governments to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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