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UN: "We're Talking About 20 to 30 Years From Now"

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Earlier this month, the United Nations warned that the struggle to contain global warming was becoming increasingly fraught and difficult:

"We will have to work much harder to win this battle now than we would have been required 10 or 15 years ago. The challenge is daunting but I don't for a moment feel pessimistic," says Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

His comments came as the United Nations prepares to release the next installment of its blockbuster climate report at the end of this month in Yokohama, Japan.

According to the final draft seen by The Independent, the global body will warn about the deadly impacts a hotter planet will have on water and food security in the near future.

Last September, the UN warned that our planet is warming much faster than expected. It says that global temperatures may now warm by up to two degrees celsius within the next few decades.

According to climate scientist Michael Mann, our planet may hit that mark as early as
2036 . Although 2C of warming is widely considered to be the upper safe limit, such a temperature rise will usher in changes not seen for some 115,000 years.

Next week, the UN is expected to warn that a further 0.2 degrees celsius rise will "negatively impact" major staple foods such as maize, wheat and rice.

Crop yields are expected to fall by 2% every decade. Yet at the same time, food demand will increase by 14% for every ten years until 2050 as the world population continues its upward ascent towards 9 billion.

Although the world's poor, and those living around the hotter tropical belt will be the hardest hit, no one will be immune from the inevitable food price hikes, and riots that will follow.

According to KPMG, food prices will double over the next twenty years. And, scientists say that this will create new "poverty pockets" in upper to middle high income countries as food availability becomes unpredictable.

One need only remember the food riots of 2008 to appreciate how sensitive social stability is to food prices.

Some analysts think that it was food shortages that paved the way towards the Arab spring. According to the UN, prices for dairy, meat, sugar and cereals were all at record highs a month before the collapse of both the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes.

Such tensions will only grow worse as water itself becomes more scare.

According to KPMG, by 2030 there will a 40% gap between global water demand and supply, with over 1 billion people living in areas afflicted by water stress.

"What is probably new compared to previous reports is the recognition of climate change's impacts much sooner than was expected. We are not talking about 2100, we are talking about what's going to happen in 20 to 30 years," says Alexandre Meybeck from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization

The conflict in Darfur is widely regarded as the world's first war caused by climate change.

According to the UN, one of the main causes of the conflict was water shortages owing to a warmer climate. Rainfall in Darfur is about 30% lower than it was 40 years ago. At the same time however, the region's population has grown almost six fold to 7.5 million people.

"What's emerging is an interconnected web of risks, with the threads of water stress, food insecurity and rising population and consumption now magnified by extreme weather and climatic change," says Sandra Postel, founder of the Global Water Policy Project.

"Sudan's tragedy is not just the tragedy of one country in Africa. It is a window to a wider world underlining how issues such as uncontrolled depletion of natural resources, allied to impacts such as climate change can destabilise communities," says Achim Steiner from the UN Environmental Programme.

"We find that civil wars were much more likely to happen in warmer-than-average years, with one degree Celsius warmer temperatures in a given year associated with a 50 percent higher likelihood of conflict. Fighting for something to eat beats starving in their fields," says agricultural economist Marshall Burke from the University of Berkley.

From this perspective, climate change becomes a brutal threat multiplier.

Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry likened global warming to terrorism: "Perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction."

His comments came during a visit to Asia after the US and China joined forces to lead the charge against global warming. Responsible for over 40% of all greenhouse gases, the world's two largest economies have pledged to produce "concrete results" ahead of next year's critical climate talks in Paris.

By 2020, world leaders have vowed to rein in their carbon emissions. But, global efforts to strike a deal have languished as nations squabble over who should bear the brunt of cuts.

Analysts now hope that commitment by the world's two largest powerhouses will pave way for a strong accord next year. Although both countries have already taken bold strides to curb emissions at home, the pace and scale of change is not nearly fast enough.

Earlier this week, in a rare intervention into public policy, America's leading scientific society the AAAS urged Americans to act more quickly.

According to recent Gallup poll, although most people in the US understand that climate change is real, the majority do not regard it as a pressing issue.

And, it is this lack of urgency which makes it hard for democratic governments, including Congress, to bring about long term change. As most heads of state are only in power for four years, they are at the mercy of voters' short term needs.

But, looking at climate change within a shorter timeframe makes the issue far more poignant: 2030 is only 16 years from now. That makes it a grave problem which will affect each and every one of us: young, old, rich and poor.

As Martin Luther King once said: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." In the face of this great global challenge, "we must accept that tomorrow is already today, and "confront the fierce urgency of now" for "there is such a thing as being too late."

As Naradev Sano, the head of the Philippines' climate delegation asked one year before one of the most powerful storms in history struck his country owing to warmer weather over the Pacific: "If not us, then who? If not here, then where? If not now, then when?"

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