15 June 2009

GHF Responds

A few weeks ago I took the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) to task (here and here and here) for making scientifically unsupportable assertions about the role of climate change in causing death, which it estimated at 315,000 per year. The Wall Street Journal, which featured my comments in an editorial on June 6 has published a letter in response by Walter Fust of the GHF, which I reprint here:
Regarding your editorial " 'Worse Than Fiction' "(June 6) about our recent publication, "Human Impact Report: Climate Change -- The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis": Unfortunately, this issue of climate change is not going away, however much we all wish it would.

The report is clearly controversial, but it's also well researched and very serious, despite Prof. Roger Pielke's rather alarmist language. Virtually the entire study is an agglomeration of existing statistics and models, updated where possible in most cases with the experts who developed them.

The number that has generated the most headlines is that some 300,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change. The number is derived mainly from a version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease model, which recently figured in an article in the British medical journal "The Lancet." Some 7.5 million people die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. These are all highly climate-sensitive diseases. Most of the deaths are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where temperature increases and water shortages can be more pronounced than, say, in Europe or North America. The WHO estimates the climate change role at around 4%, hence 300,000. To this we add annual losses due to extreme events like floods and cyclones, bringing an extra 15,000 to the death toll. This is clearly an estimate, but it's a supportable one. We make no claim that the Human Impact Report is the definitive scientific study on this topic. It's a start. More must follow. Climate change may not be the largest humanitarian concern today, but it is the fastest growing.

Our intention is not to try to divert funds from treating diseases like malaria but exactly the opposite. Climate change has remained silent, aggravating other problems that affect human society. Additional resources need to be directed toward tackling these problems precisely because of the influence climate change is now having on them. But the role of climate change in causing the problems must also be addressed.

It is fortunate that Kofi Annan has become so engaged in helping bring the issue to the forefront.

Walter Fust
CEO/Director General
Global Humanitarian Forum