NPR logo

World's Poorest Regions Most Vulnerable To Global Warming

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
World's Poorest Regions Most Vulnerable To Global Warming

World's Poorest Regions Most Vulnerable To Global Warming

World's Poorest Regions Most Vulnerable To Global Warming

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Developing countries that lack industrial infrastructure contribute the least to global warming, yet they are also the least prepared to deal ruinous effects of climate change. Dr. Saleem Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, speaks with Michel Martin about what these countries want from the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.


As we said, the news out of Copenhagen today concerned the U.S. commitment to work with other wealthy countries to put together a fund to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change. Now, many of these countries have fewer cars on the road, less industrial infrastructure and contribute less to global warming than wealthier nations. Yet many of them stand to suffer the most from the negative impact of global warming. We wanted to explain why that is. So, earlier, we called Saleemul Huq. He's a senior fellow with an expertise in climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. He's originally from Bangladesh, and I thank him for joining us.

Mr. SALEEMUL HUQ (Senior Fellow, International Institute For Environment and Development): My pleasure.

MARTIN: So, what is at stake for the developing nations in this conference? And, obviously, we understand that that's a term that covers a lot of different places, but broadly speaking?

Mr. HUQ: Well, the developing nations constitute about 140 different countries, ranging from very large countries like China and India with a billion people each to very small, tiny countries like Maldives and Tuvalu in the Pacific and Bangladesh with a very large poor population. And the particular countries that are of concern to me and my institute are the least developed countries, the most vulnerable countries. And they don't emit hardly any greenhouse gases, and yet they are the ones that are going to suffer the consequences, and indeed, as some may argue, are already suffering the consequences of impacts of climate change.

MARTIN: And why are they the most vulnerable? What makes them the most vulnerable?

Mr. HUQ: Well, firstly, they happen to be located in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world - places where there's going to be increased floods, droughts, hurricanes and cyclones. And secondly, they're poor, so they can't cope with today's problems, let alone tomorrow's problems that will occur because of global warming. And thirdly, they have very little capacity to even understand the problem, let alone face it.

MARTIN: Can you give me an example using Bangladesh as an example?

Mr. HUQ: Sure, Bangladesh is known generally as one of the most vulnerable countries. The reason is that three out of the four major impacts of climate change are likely to hit it quite badly. Firstly, increasing floods - it normally has a major flood every 20 or 30 years. That's likely to become every five or possibly 10 years. It's also a cyclone or hurricane-prone country, and again, major cyclones hit every 10 or 20 years. Those might become more intense and frequent. And thirdly, it's also part of the country is a drought-prone area during the dry year and droughts are likely to increase as well.

MARTIN: I think people understand drought and why climate change leads to drought. But talk about the intensity of the cyclones and the effects from coastal flooding and so forth. What's the relationship between climate change and those effects?

Mr. HUQ: Cyclones are not likely to become more frequent because of global warming. But the intensity of a given cyclone is dependent on the temperature of the sea. And so the likelihood of more intense cyclones becomes much higher.

MARTIN: And what about flooding?

Mr. HUQ: Flooding has the same sort of problem in that the pattern within the year is likely to change. And so we'll have more floods during the monsoon period, and paradoxically, more droughts during the dry period.

MARTIN: How do you think the concerns of the developing nations are being addressed at the conference to your knowledge?

Mr. HUQ: Well, the conference is the 15th conference of parties of countries that have signed and ratified the United Nations framework convention on climate change. And having done so, they accept that climate change is a manmade phenomenon. It's a global problem and everybody is responsible for taking actions. And they also accept in the framework convention that certain countries, namely the rich, are the ones who are primarily responsible and have to take action first.

The question is how do we ramp up what the actions have been so far, which are clearly inadequate, and get all countries to get on the same page, in terms of taking actions to reduce the greenhouse gases that caused the problem, and recognize that in the near term there is really nothing we can do to prevent some kind of impacts, particularly on the poor people on the planet. And that they need the help because they aren't the ones who caused the problem.

MARTIN: Do you feel that there will be an agreement? Do you see progress being made at this conference?

Mr. HUQ: Well, if you look at the details of the conference then perhaps it doesn't look like much progress is being made. On the other hand, I still remain optimistic, because we have another two days to go when we're going to have over 120 of the world's leaders here. And they are the ones who make decisions. They don't need to refer to anybody else to make those decisions. Once they're here, they're together in the same room, realize the magnitude of the problem, realize that everybody needs to do their bit. I'm absolutely confident that they'll step up to do that.

MARTIN: That was going to be my final question. Are you optimistic or pessimistic after having worked on these issues for so long and having seen the effects first hand in your home country?

Mr. HUQ: I remain extremely optimistic. I think once people realize the magnitude of the problem, they will step up and do what they need to do. In Copenhagen, it's not just the leaders that are sitting inside the room discussing it. There are tens of thousands of people outside on the streets demonstrating and demanding action and being prepared to take action themselves.

There are business communities here, companies that are moving in that direction. So it's very clear to those who want to acknowledge the science which is now very unequivocal that we are living in a globally warmed world. And it's warming further. We need to take action to make that happen. And we need to transition from a fossil-fuel-dependent economy to a cleaner, greener economy in the future.

MARTIN: Saleemul Huq is a senior fellow in climate change at the London based International Institute for Environment and Development. Mr. Huq is originally from Bangladesh and he joined us from Copenhagen. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HUQ: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Just ahead, a juvenile justice reformer who spent his life trying to help troubled kids turn their lives around.

Mr. VINCENT SCHIRALDI (Juvenile Justice Reformer): Growing up in Brooklyn, a lot of my friends got in trouble with the law. And I always found that there were two things that were true about them if they got locked up. One was they came back out worse - meaner, tougher, more hardened. And the other was we all looked up to them more.

MARTIN: That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.