An excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s recent dispatch “Calculated Risk” from the climate summit in Paris, originally posted on the Harper’s Magazine blog:
Obama spoke of his summer trip to Alaska, whose melting permafrost and burning tundra are “a preview of one possible future”—though it’s the present, not the future, for Alaska. Still, Obama did acknowledge one of the central facts of the day: “We know the truth that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its threats.”
Given this fact, it’s no surprise that things got real when some of the less famous world leaders took their turns. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi noted that Africa is both the continent that emits least per capita and the one that faces the gravest consequences. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, the president of Djibouti, itemized the ways his region would be destroyed, and is being destroyed now. “It is clear that if nothing is done,” he said, “the peoples of East Africa will find it impossible to survive.”
Later, in a much smaller room, with far less fanfare, members of the group of climate-vulnerable nations met. These included places like Nepal and Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, as well as the forty-four-nation Alliance of Small Island States. As Philippines president Benigno Aquino III noted, “vulnerable countries bear more than half the economic impact and 80 percent of the health impact” of climate change and are “losing 2.5 percent of GDP to climate [change] each year.” Few places are more imperiled than the archipelagos of the Philippines; he mentioned 50,000 deaths per year since 2010 in climate-related incidents and 40 million people facing displacement in the foreseeable future.