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The cost of doing nothing (report) 2.8 MB

By 2050, 200 million people every year could need international humanitarian aid as a result of a cruel combination of climate-related disasters and the socioeconomic impact of climate change. This is nearly twice the estimated 108 million people who need help today from the international humanitarian system because of floods, storms, droughts and wildfires. Even by 2030, which is only a decade away, this number could increase almost 50 per cent.

If we let the number of people in need increase, there will be a hefty price tag. Today, resources are already insufficient to provide very basic support to everyone who needs assistance after climate-related disasters. Depending on the amount of support provided and the source of cost estimates, meeting current needs costs international funders $3.5 to $12 billion per year. By 2030, this funding requirement could balloon to $20 billion per year.

These figures are the result of an analysis by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and leading climate scientists and economists. They illustrate a potential cost of doing nothing to help societies adapt to climate change.

While there is a clear cost of doing nothing, there is also a chance to do something. While we cannot prevent storms, cyclones, heat waves and other climate and weather-related hazards from happening, we can do something about the impacts they have. There are measures that can be introduced to make development more inclusive, and to better reduce the risk of and manage climate-related disasters. It is crucial to invest in climate adaptation, and to build resilience in the communities, countries, and regions at risk. By helping communities and countries to prepare and adapt, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance will drop, along with the amount of money needed by international humanitarian organizations. Mitigating climate change by reducing carbon emissions is critical. However, even if we were to cut our emissions to zero tomorrow, the world would continue to warm for decades, and sea levels will rise for many centuries. Therefore, as well as mitigating climate change, adapting to it is indispensable if we are to continue to thrive in a warming world.

This analysis is a first take on a complex issue. Its objective is to highlight the importance of the problem, but there is uncertainty around the precise numbers. In some ways they represent a pessimistic scenario of rapid climate change, insufficient investments in adaptation, and unequal development patterns.

The estimates produced are based on scenarios of how the world will evolve in the future, in terms of economic growth, inequality, demography, and climate change. Uncertainty on these changes, and on future policy choices, translates into uncertainty about future humanitarian needs.

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