Hurricanes and typhoons do not receive equal treatment. The former, born over Atlantic waters and often impacting the United States, receive much wider news coverage than the latter, originating in the Pacific and battering poorer countries in Southeast Asia. Maybe it should be the other way round, as in the case of typhoon Goni which last November obliterated the Philippines and Vietnam with torrential rains and record- shattering wind gusts of 192mph.
In reality, hurricanes and typhoons are the same weather phenomenon, created by a combination of factors including warm tropical waters (albeit from two different oceans). The key difference lies in the people affected by them, simplistically described as ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’.
Hurricanes and typhoons are now increasing in frequency and intensity, a fact clearly correlated to climate change. This highlights the ever-present reality that poor people suffer more from a climate change they contributed little towards. The sheer destruction left behind by typhoon Goni will aggravate the livelihoods of millions of human beings whose contribution to the climate crisis is negligible at best.
It was in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio, that the United Nations agreed on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, or CBDR. Since the greenhouse gases emitted by industrial activities linger in the atmosphere for up to a century, the theory was that longtime polluters should pay more – both to mitigate the effects of climate change and to help developing countries adapt to its consequences. The CBDR principle was applied to the now defunct Kyoto Protocol and has been downplayed, if not forgotten, ever since.
The Earth Summit also gave birth to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which holds the yearly summits known as COPs. At COP25, held last year in Madrid, rich countries refused to partially compensate developing nations for the destruction inflicted by a warmer climate, as recommended by a 2013 agreement. The staggering Covid-19 bill these countries now have to pay will hardly make them any more munificent at COP26, due to be held in Glasgow next year.
Participants at COP26 will also consider a proposed ‘loss and damage’ fund in which rich countries would be compelled to pay in if they miss their emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. Sadly, that landmark treaty was signed by 196 countries only because it contained no real obligations whatsoever. If nothing changes, the planet’s inequalities are set to rise.