AS countries convene in Madrid for the of UN-led climate talks, the stark reality of life for people on the frontlines of climate change has been laid bare.

A new report from Oxfam, Forced from Home, reveals that climate-fuelled disasters were the number one driver of internal displacement over the last decade – forcing an estimated 20 million people a year from their homes. That’s one person every two seconds.

In Cuba, Dominica and Tuvalu, nearly 5% of the population has been displaced annually by extreme weather between 2008 and 2018. This is equivalent to almost half the population of Glasgow – where the climate talks will be held this time next year – being displaced elsewhere within Scotland every year.

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Just imagine the upheaval, and suffering, being forced to leave your home would create – even in Scotland. However, today’s report shows it is people in the poorest countries around the world who are most vulnerable to this climate-fuelled displacement.

More people in those countries are likely to live in poorly built houses or on land that is more at risk from extreme weather. They are unlikely to have insurance or savings to help them rebuild their lives after a disaster.

People like Silveria Perez, a mother of four from Guatemala.

Silveria and her family used to have fields full of crops, but El Nino has brought six years of drought across Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Silveria’s husband has been forced to move to Mexico to find work, but the money he sends back is only enough to buy one pound of corn – leaving the family to go hungry.

With the frequency and intensity of extreme weather increasing, the ability of people living in poverty to withstand shocks is gradually being eroded.

Each climate disaster is leading them further into a downward spiral of deeper poverty and hunger, and eventually, displacement.

Not only are the countries most affected by climate disasters the poorest countries, they are also the countries that do the least to cause climate change.

It’s a sobering reality that developed countries, like Scotland, have historic climate debt. Despite the Scottish Parliament agreeing stronger emission targets in September, under our current ambitions we’ll be making this crisis worse for the next three decades.

Encouragingly, climate finance – the money countries affected by climate change need to adapt and recover – is one of the key issues at this year’s UN climate talks, known this year as COP25.

The UN is due to conclude a review of the progress made under the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage, and developing countries will be pushing for the establishment of a new fund to help communities recover and rebuild after climate shocks.

Up to now, poor countries have mainly been left to cover the rising costs of extreme weather disasters themselves. And new Oxfam analysis shows that these costs are crippling.

Economic losses from extreme weather disasters over the last decade were equivalent to 2% of countries’ national income. For small island developing states like Dominica or Tuvalu, this was up to an astonishing 20%.

Rich polluting countries, like the UK, must deliver on their promise to mobilise $100 billion a year globally by 2020 to support emissions reductions and adaptation in poor countries. They must also deliver deeper and more urgent emissions reductions to limit global heating to 1.5°C.

Next year’s COP in Glasgow will mark five years since the signing of the Paris Agreement, and in the run-up to it countries will update their national emission plans for the first time.

These plans will set the trajectory for climate action in the crucial period between now and 2030.

However, people like Silveria cannot afford for another 12 months to pass with insufficient action. Governments can and must make Madrid matter.

Ambitions must be strengthened, and strategies put in place for a swift and just phase-out of fossil fuels.

A new finance facility that provides an assessment of global climate financing needs is essential with clear criteria for disbursing funds and agreement on new and innovative ways of mobilising additional funds.

Most importantly, the rights, dignity and long-term solutions for people displaced by the climate crisis must be at the heart of decision making.

In 2019, millions of people across the globe – including thousands of young people here in Scotland – mobilised to demand climate justice.

Nowhere is the injustice more clearly visible than in the shattered lives of women, men and children who have been forced to leave their homes and communities by a crisis they did little to create.

Much of the focus is on 2030 and the world’s leading climate scientists’ warning about the catastrophic consequences of going above 1.5C.

But for people like Silveria, the crisis is already here.

COP26 in Glasgow must be a landmark year in the climate movement but, before then, countries must make the next two weeks in Madrid really matter.

Jamie Livingstone
Head of Oxfam Scotland