Climate Change Lessons from Ashura and Karbala

Every day is Ashura, Every land is Karbala


Ashura is the 10th day of Muharam, the first month in the Islamic Hijri year and amongst many important events marks martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) grandson, Hussein ibn Ali (as), in 680 A.D. Whilst details are debated, the story unfolds in part that Hussein (as) went into the battle of Karbala in Iraq knowing that he and his followers might be killed, and generations since have drawn lessons from their struggle against injustice, sacrifice and their commitment to living what they believed was true.


As several communities around the world mark Ashura this week, it brings remembrance again of those lessons that have echoed through hundreds of years.


Many faith based groups working towards climate justice have been gathering in the lead up to the UN COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris. 


There are many lessons from the faith community that can also be applied to the current injustice of climate change, where humanity faces an unprecedented existential threat. This can be seen from the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, to Pope Francis’s Encyclical letter on care for our common home.


With respect, I have outlined below how the essence of some of the lessons, values and reflections of Ashura and Karbala can be applied to the methods in which countries can address climate change both within International UN Climate negotiations, as well as actions on a local level.


In Support of the Truth


Imam Hussain (as) announced: “Don’t you see that truth has been replaced by falsehood? We must be prepared to sacrifice everything that is precious in support of Truth!” Truth was the essence of his living message.


In climate truth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC AR5) confirms that climate change is happening and is driven by human Green House Gas emissions. It also confirms that each of the last three decades has been warmer than all preceding decades since 1850 and the first decade of the 21st century has been the warmest. It warned that we are on track for extremely dangerous temperature rise, and continued increases in emissions “would induce changes in all components of the climate system, some of which would very likely be unprecedented in hundreds to thousands of years.”


We are closest to the truth than we have ever been on climate. The debate on the science is now over, and we must now act and live on that truth. IPCC advocates the substantial and sustained reduction of CO2, and proposes an ‘emissions budget’ or a limit of the total amount of greenhouse gases (270 PgC) that humanity can emit for the remainder of this century to limit warming to 2°C.


Currently, the fossil fuel industry has roughly 2795 gigatons of CO2 in their reserves to keep emissions under that threshold, major fossil fuel nations would need to commit to policies to keep nearly 80% of those fossil fuel reserves underground. It would be ‘suicide’ acting against truth by burning all potential fossil fuel reserves. 


To avoid catastrophic climate change we must find a way to live within the limit of emissions for the century – this will mean transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels and also building local, democratic and community owned renewable energy projects.




Hussein (as) himself made his companions and fellows aware of the potential consequences of impending actions before going into any challenge.


Climate change will affect almost every single human endeavor, and every human life in some form. It is our responsibility as global citizens that if we accept and agree with the truths of this world, we should work to educate and make others aware of the consequences of our actions.


We’re the first generation of humans to witness, measure, and comprehend the planetary effects of our actions. While all living things affect the living Earth, we’re the ones who can see our decisions reverberate, and calculate how long our consequences will affect this earth for. For all human beings, it’s time to consciously choose the kind of difference we want to make to the Earth, our collective future and to each individual life.


We need to raise awareness and educate on the consequences of humanity’s current “business as usual” trajectory, where the world will burn through about 5 times that safety limit of fossil fuels by 2100, putting the world on a path for warming of more than 4.5 degrees Celsius and about a meter of additional sea level rise. On our current trajectory we will surpass the “point of no return” for the climate system, and global warming will be irreversible.


We also need to raise awareness and educate on the consequences of the solutions available if positive action is taken now. These solutions include; transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy; as consumers to reject the consumption of carbon intensive products and services, and instead encourage companies to provide ethical and sustainable products; conservation and greater energy efficiency; preserving the the Earth’s lungs through preserving the world forests and trees; to encourage and work towards sustainable innovations within all companies so that the purpose of each is to provide shared value for all of life.


Whilst these are only some of the solutions, they are solutions of hope that are in our hands.
From the international multilateral negotiations, to national governments, to every citizen, and within every organization and school, we can bring the awareness that these solutions are not only possible, but they are absolutely necessary if the consequences of our actions are to be positive rather than destructive.


Participation of Women


Without the participation of Zaynab bint Ali, Hussain’s (as) sister, the mission of Karbala could not have been fulfilled. Zaynab was a model of courage in speaking truth to power, and resilience in acting on what she knew to be true.


Learning from the essence of the lesson, we cannot solve an issue such as climate change without the active participation and leadership of women.


Women, as the majority of the world’s poor, are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events, and climate change because of cultural norms and the inequitable distribution of roles, resources, and power, especially in developing countries. They are also critical to climate change solutions.


According to The World Health Organization, women are also more vulnerable because they have less access to education and information that would allow them to manage climate-related risks. The lack of independence and decision-making power, constrains women’s ability to adapt to climate change.


In 2008, 47% of delegations to the United Nations Climate negotiations had no women. In 2012, after the first two intersessionals of the UNFCCC, the average number of women delegates was only 36%. In 2012 it was agreed by countires to promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations, and adopted a goal of gender balance.


Research by humanitarian organization CARE affirms that when they are in control of resources, women are more likely than men to use them for family health and economic stability. Research also shows that women may be more likely to change strategies in response to new information and to make decisions that minimise risk. All these qualities suggest that when women are empowered, they can be extremely effective agents of adaptation to climate change and that only through female participation, can humanity’s safe climate mission be achieved


Giving Preference to the Needs of Others


In Islamic terminology, giving altruistic preference to the needs of others is referred to as Ithaar. On the day of Ashura, the actions of Hadrat Abbas, brother of Hussain (as), exemplify Ithaar. Hadrat Abbas fought bravely to gain access to the water of Euphrates. He gave no consideration to his own thirst but strove instead to bring water to the tents for the women and children.


For many oil and gas producing countries, even if there has been a concerted effort to produce renewable energy, it is done so that clean energy can be used domestically, and that their fossil fuels can still be exported globally.


The pressing situation we find ourselves in, is that small island and low-lying coastal countries that are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of global climate change, face the prospect of extinction if global average temperature increases are not kept below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This means that if oil and gas producing countries are indeed able to transition much of their energy mix to renewable’s locally, they would need to keep their fossil fuel reserves untapped and unsold in order for these vulnerable island states to even survive.


In the short term, this may seem unthinkable economically for oil and gas producing countries to consider, but if preference is given to the fate of small-island and low-lying coastal countries, the long-term collective global benefits are even greater.


Use of Lawful Means to Reach a Goal

Imam Hussain had said: “Those who use unlawful means to achieve their objectives never attain them.”


Within the UNFCCC Climate Negotiations, the ultimate goal is “The stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”


To truly reach such a goal, one vital aspect is to form a legally binding global agreement that is fair, ambitious and equitable.


Patience in Adversity

Those who saw Imam Hussein (as) on the Day of Ashura reported, “We have never seen a man remaining as composed as Imam Hussein (as), whereas his relatives and children were killed before his eyes.” Imam Hussein (as) learned to understand the message that those who remain patient will receive reward without measure. Here patience is not out of weakness or helplessness but a demonstration of his steadfastness and bravery.


The scale and impact of the global challenge of climate change is staggering and unprecedented in human history. As such, to address an issue of complexity, we need to make the biggest social, economic, and political transition that humanity has ever seen, and we need to all do it together – with 194 countries and beyond.


We are reminded several times within the UN climate Negotiations that ‘change is not an event, but a process’, and one that takes a long time so that we are not only walking together, but we are walking in the right direction. With most countries acting on their own economic interests, and the frustration it causes government negotiators and civil society, the virtues of patience are vital to find a solution whilst the world continues to suffer. To keep walking despite defeat after defeat, in order to reach ‘victory’ together.



The Prophets all carried the message of tawheed (Oneness of all) and surrender to that ultimate oneness. The act of loyalty and respect shown between all brothers and sisters who walked together in Karbala in faith is beautiful. Do we show loyalty and respect to all our brothers and sisters? Are we there in Oneness with them? Whether they be Hands, Paws, Wings or Fins?


Life on earth is under tremendous stress, and we have an opportunity in the next few years to either compound that stress or relieve it. We have a chance to become a welcome species on this planet, ensuring our own survival by championing the survival of all forms of life. The first step is also the acknowledgement that we are a biological species — as with all others— living on our one and only home, and that our deepest desire and intention is to flourish on and with the earth over it’s long life.


The more our world functions in oneness with the natural world we are connected to, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. Can we gracefully participate in a system that has been creating conditions conducive to life for billions of years?


Hope and Tawakkul

In addition to fasting on the day of Ashura, many take the time to contemplate in remembrance, thanksgiving and faith.


At the UN Climate Negotiations, citizens are leading a ‘Fast for the Climate’ until ‘a meaningful outcome is in sight’ in the UN climate talks. Fast for the climate is a growing movement of youth, environmentalists and people of faith are showing their strength of commitment by going without food once a month to call for world leaders to do more to solve the climate crisis.


Yeb Sano, the former Filippino climate ambassador, and inspiration for ‘Fast for the Climate’ is leading The People’s Pilgrimage. Throughout this year Yeb has been traveling to places at the heart of the climate crisis – across India and Asia. And he is currently embarking on the biggest challenge yet – an epic 1500km walk from Rome to Paris. Along with a group of other pilgrims, they are walking across Italy, Switzerland and France carrying with them the hopes and prayers of millions for a better future, safe from climate change.


In these days, we are in remembrance of the lessons and shoulders of generations past that we stand on, in remembrance of the suffering of the world, and in thanksgiving to all who are in that “climate battle”.


In prayers and faith that humanity may act on the climate and environmental truths that they know.


(Authors Note: Lessons were adapted from –

Climate Change Impacts in GCC

The GCC countries face multitude of climate change challenges including desertification, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and sea level rise. The region is characterized by high temperature, high humidity and arid lands resulting in seriously degraded soil and land damage in addition to salt intrusion in the aquifers affecting the small scale agricultural lands thus enhancing the food security threat in the region. All of the above geographical threats have therefore increased and activated the participation of GCC states in global negotiations recently as evidence are uncovered and impacts being felt across the region. If a couple of days of rain can flood parts of cities in GCC, and bring life to a standstill, the prospect of large scale climate change is a sobering thought, and a thought that needs to be translated into action.


Rise in Sea Level


One of the main climate change impacts is sea level rise on coastal areas of all Arabian Gulf states. This includes many of the large and small islands in the Gulf region which are highly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. An example is the low-lying geology of Bahrain’s islands, which coupled with high land reclamation and extensive industrial, commercial, and residential activity in coastal zones, highlight the island’s acute vulnerability to climate change induced sea level rise.

The total land area that would be inundated under the various climate change scenarios was found to be substantial by the Bahrain Supreme Council for the Environment. Even the low sea level rise scenario will result in an inundation of about five per cent (36 km2) of the total land area of Bahrain by 2100. This level increases to about 11 per cent of total land area (69 km2) in the worst case scenario.

Inundation will unevenly affect Bahrain’s vulnerable infrastructure in the five main islands and would adversely affect cities, roads, agricultural areas, as well as beaches and salt marshes. Even in other cities, if reinforcement measures are not implemented on Dubai’s coastline for example, it would be damaged and altered from rising sea levels caused by climate change.


Water Availability


Continued use of non-renewable water is major factor in depleting groundwater reserves in GCC nations and puts Gulf countries at severe risk of climate impacts. In Saudi Arabia, water supply is drawn from four sources: groundwater from deep fossil aquifers, desalinated water, surface water and reclaimed wastewater. Extracting water from deep aquifers amounts to mining the resource, as supplies are non-renewable and have been severely depleted as a result of policies which for the past three decades have subsidized not only agricultural commodities such as wheat, but also the means to produce them. It is not surprising therefore that agriculture accounts for roughly 85% of water use in Saudi Arabia.

The depletion of Bahrain’s groundwater through urbanization has led to the loss of freshwater springs, which the country was once famous for, as well as its fertile lands. Same is the case with Qatar which heavily relies on energy-intensive desalination plants for its freshwater, further driving up its electricity demand. A vast majority of desalination plants in GCC are energy-intensive and installed at a huge cost to the environment.


Food Security


The Middle East is especially vulnerable to tensions brought on by spike in food prices. This is a region where putting new land into production is not that easy because of the nature of the terrain and water shortage. In Saudi Arabia, only about 2 percent of the country’s enormous land mass is arable, even with intensive irrigation and modern farming technology. Facing a probable 77 percent growth in its population by 2050, Saudi Arabia is grappling with the realization that its barren soil and dwindling water supply will be insufficient to feed all those people (Middle East Institute 2010)

In Bahrain there are over 6,000 people employed in the fishing industry. Deterioration of coral reef habitats will negatively affect associated fauna and fish stocks, and eventually threaten the viability of Bahrain’s fishing industry. The loss of agricultural land due to a one metre rise in sea level is likely to be over 11 per cent of the total arable land in the country.




The potential loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity under climate change is a major concern across the region. The Arabian Peninsula is a meeting point between the Indo-Asian and the Afro-European regions and enjoys a rich biodiversity in a hyper arid environment. For the terrestrial environment, the Arabian Peninsula has dozens of mammal species, hundreds of bird species, and scores of amphibian and reptile species.

For the marine environment, the Arabian Gulf’s relative shallowness supports a number of highly productive coastal habitats, including intertidal mudflats, seagrasses, algal beds, mangroves, and coral reefs, together with a wide variety of fish species, some of which are endangered. With climate change, these species, such as migratory birds and dugongs would be adversely affected.

Climate Change Impacts in North Africa

In North Africa, rising temperatures associated with climate change are expected to decrease the land areas suitable for agriculture, shorten the length of growing seasons and reduce crop yields. The decrease in annual precipitation that is predicted for Northern Africa in the 21st century will exacerbate these effects, particularly in semi-arid and arid regions that rely on irrigation for crop growth.

Whilst extreme events associated with climate change, like floods and droughts, will probably set economic development back many years, approaches to climate change adaptation are not usually aligned with development issues. Climate change mitigation will divert resources from programmes to address poverty, unemployment and poor-living conditions and threats the sustainability of development process. Therefore, seemingly conflicting interests between the development and climate change agendas often arise, especially in regions like North Africa.


Sea Level Rise, Droughts and Floods

Droughts and floods are the most common climatic events in North Africa and represent direct threats to lives, livelihoods and socio-economic aspects. However, as one of the world’s most water-scarce regions with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture, the economic and social conditions in North Africa are likely to deteriorate in the future. This is also particularly relevant to the region due to the high dependence of regional economies on agriculture.

The main economic and social activities in North Africa are concentrated along the coastal zones. Population within 100 km of coast is 68.8 percent in Algeria, 78.7 percent in Libya, 65.1 percent in Morocco, and 84 percent in Tunisia. Thus, sea level rise could result in major population movements and adversely affect many economic activities like tourism; a major source of employment and income in Morocco and Tunisia.


Water Scarcity

North Africa faces many similar issues to the Levant region when it comes to geographical climate impacts in terms of water scarcity and soil degradation. Furthermore, in Egypt it is projected that 1 meter sea level rise will affect an approximate of 6 million people mostly ’poor’, living in the Nile delta basin. Thus this weakening in the Nile Delta which is heavily inhabited and used for agriculture shall impact millions of people. Recent studies have forecasted that Nile river’s flow will decrease by 40-60% which will increase frequency and intensity of drought, particularly in North African countries causing major socio-economic and political problem for the region. It is also emphasized that Egypt will have to redesign its water policy due to precipitation changes around Ethiopia, from where 80% of water that flows into Egypt is generated.



In North Africa, rising temperatures associated with climate change are expected to decrease the land areas suitable for agriculture, shorten the length of growing seasons and reduce crop yields. In these countries, we estimate that a 1°C rise in temperature in a given year reduces economic growth in that year by about 1.1%. The decrease in annual precipitation that is predicted for Northern Africa in the 21st century will exacerbate these effects, particularly in semiarid and arid regions that rely on irrigation for crop growth.

As one of the world’s most water-scarce regions with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture, the economic and social conditions in North Africa are likely to deteriorate in the future. This is also particularly relevant to the region due to the high dependence of regional economies on agriculture.

Crop production would be reduced across much of the continent as optimal growing conditions are exceeded. The capacity of African communities to cope will be significantly challenged. In North Africa, infrastructure and adaptation to extreme weather events are expected to prove costliest.


Economic Impact

The main economic and social activities in North Africa are concentrated along the coastal zones. Thus, sea level rise could result in major population movements and adversely affect many economic activities like tourism; a major source of employment and income in Morocco and Tunisia. There needs to be integration into the political and economic choices made by these countries, so that there is an understanding of the structural reality of climatic change in its broad dimensions and with its medium- and long-term repercussions. There is a need to make a clear and direct connection between this phenomenon and other socio-economic factors that are more integrated on a policy level.

Climate Change Impacts in the Levant

Many countries in the Levant ’” such as Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria ’” are afflicted by water scarcity, weak institutional and governmental resource management, high food import dependency and fragile economies ’“ all coupled with increasing populations and demand. According to the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the Arab World will be witnessing hotter and drier conditions with extensive droughts causing severe water shortages that will have dire impacts on agriculture and livelihood. Farmers in the Arab world for centuries have been addressing adaptation and resilience issues through farming, water management and environmental degradation. Global climate change is foreseen to increase the severity of climatic conditions and increase the vulnerability of resource dependent countries and communities.


Water Scarcity


Water scarcity is one of the issues expected to increase with climate change. This will adversely affect livelihoods and sectors like agriculture, which is the largest water user in the country. The Levant region is projected to be one of the most severely impacted region in the world as per most general circulation models (GCMs) due to the expectation of severe water scarcity which will in turn impact its socio-economic development (Assaf, 2009). The Levant states’ engagement in the UNFCCC process is vital since major regional studies conducted by the Arab Development and Environment Forum forecasts alarming impacts part of which suggests that increasingly scarce water resources will be further reduced between 15-50% in all four countries.

Moreover, due to water loss and land degradation agricultural self-sufficiency is dismal, especially when considering inefficient irrigation techniques that are more suitable to other areas instead of the Levant region, e.g. severe land degradation in the Euphrates Valley of Syria (Nasr, 2009). This in turn will result and influence the whole issue of food security leading to widespread poverty in the region. The situation may be exacerbated due to current political instability and conflict in the area ’” noting that Syria is heavily dependent on water resources outside its borders, while Jordon already consumes more than 100% of their available water (Nasr, 2009; Tolba and Saab, 2009). Jordon, ranked as the fourth most water insecure country in the world, has already identified four critical sectors ’“ water, energy, agriculture and food security ’“ in addition to waste reduction and management.




Increase in temperatures and decrease in rainfall also characterizes the main climatic changes facing Levant countries such as Lebanon. Agricultural sector in Levant is expected to experience minimal impact of climate change. However, a reduced amount of agricultural land will be available due to desertification and urban expansion. This means that agriculture will be affected and the price of vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products will rise as well, bringing about negative impacts on marginalized communities.


Increase in Sea Level


An additional factor is the expected rise in sea level that could further contaminate the nearby aquifers such as the coastal aquifer of Gaza that should provide water to impoverished Palestinians. The annual decrease in precipitation has led to less freshwater availability for surface or ground water. It is being projected that a one meter rise in 50 years will cause salt intrusions in Iraq well into the north beyond Basra and intrude into water aquifers in Lebanon, as far as downtown Beirut and Dbayyeh areas (Nasr, 2009).


Political Vulnerability


With stringent Israeli control on natural resources use and management, the Palestinian Authority lacks the capacity to enforce regulations and mechanisms to ensure the integ1ration of climate change impacts into development planning in the country. This ultimately increases the vulnerability of governmental and nongovernmental institutions and further intensifies the vulnerability and exposure of communities to the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, climate change adaptation planning is supported by governmental institutions like the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and the Water Authority in addition to environmental NGOs and engaged stakeholders. Similar to Jordan, Palestine climate projections clearly state that water shortages will increase, increasing the water asymmetry already existing due to the unequal use of water between Israel and Palestinian areas.


Economic Considerations


In the Levant region, the water sector currently undergoes several environmental stresses resulting from different socio- economic activities and practices, including agriculture, energy, and transport. The potential impacts of climate change on the coastal zone include losses in coastal and marine economic activities such as tourism, agriculture, fisheries, transportation and other essential services. Coastal communities relying on ecosystem services, such as fishing for livelihoods will bear the impacts of increase in sea water temperature as the marine fish stock might decrease and marine biodiversity miay change or decline.

In countries such as Lebanon, the coastal zone has very high population density (estimated at around 594 inhabitants per km2) and is characterized by a concentration of Lebanon’s main economic activity. In fact, the largest Lebanese cities (Beirut, Saida, Tripoli and Tyre) are located along the coast, and contribute to more than 74% of Lebanon’s GDP through commercial and financial activities, large industrial zones, important agricultural lands as well as fishing and tourism.

In addition to organizational and technical constrains similarly faced by other Levant countries, Palestine is also experiencing political constrains due to the Israeli situation. The shared trans-boundary groundwater is unequally distributed with Israel using more than 80% of Palestinian water resources.


Research Gap


Due to economic growth and increasing population, energy demand is expected to rise by at least 50 percent in some countries over the next 20 years. The provision of reliable energy supply at reasonable cost is thus a crucial element of economic reform and sustainable development. Transportation sector is of crucial importance for the regions further economic development. In general terms, lack of and access to data are the main barriers that proved to be the most hindering. The lack of statistics particularly affects the assessment of GHG emissions and economic development scenarios. In turn, governments have blamed the weak economic base for the inability to support research. The absence of scientific assessments and research in terms of assessing e.g. economic impacts of climate change, the ecological impacts of global warming and the degree of resilience of the different systems are hindering the prioritization of adaptation strategies in the decision-making process.

Protect Our Future: Diabetes and Climate Change

Writing from the halls of the UN Climate Change COP19 Summit in Warsaw, where I’m tracking negotiations, I’m also marking World Diabetes Day (WDD), which falls on 14 November and represents the intersection of two urgent and interconnected challenges.

Diabetes is one of the major health and development challenges of the 21st century. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), there are currently 371 million people living with diabetes and another 280 million are at high risk of developing the disease. Half a billion people are expected to be living with diabetes by 2030.

Diabetes causes 5 million deaths and costs over 470 billion US Dollars in global healthcare expenditure every year, whilst climate change is on an even greater trajectory in regards to its devastating environmental, economic and human impacts.

Each year, WDD revolves around a diabetes-related theme and this year’s WDD slogan is Protect Our Future; a slogan that also resonates with the youth constituency at the UN climate talks who are pushing governments to recognize the thus far neglected rights and voices of future generations who will face the full injustices of climate change if the necessary action required by the science isn’t taken.

On 14 November, which also happens to be Youth and Future Generations Day at the climate negotiations, it’s important to highlight these two generation defining issues.


How are diabetes and climate change interconnected?



(Source: International Diabetes Federation)


Like many socio-economic issues, health and climate change are deeply interconnected and both its challenges and solutions cannot be separated. Climate change is the largest threat to human health and exacerbates existing health risks including increased morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes.

Diabetes and climate change are directly and indirectly interconnected, as the IDF explains, some of these interconnections include:


Extreme climate events: As we have seen with Typhoon Haiyans path of destruction through the Philippines this past week, the increase of extreme climactic events will cause damage to healthcare infrastructure and threaten the delivery of care for vulnerable people with diabetes.


An overheating world: People with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes are more vulnerable to the adverse health impacts of climate change. In hotter temperatures, dehydration and heatstroke increases morbidity and mortality in people with diabetes. People with diabetes are predisposed to cardiovascular events during heat waves and higher mortality from heart attack on days of high air pollution.


Food insecurity and malnutrition: Climate change is exacerbating food insecurity. Climate change threatens agricultural production and the food supply through water scarcity, and drought the destruction of crops by climactic extremes. Both over-nutrition and under-nutrition increase an individuals risk of developing type 2 diabetes and related NCDs.


Obesity and greenhouse gas emissions: The rising burden of type 2 diabetes and its principal driver, obesity, are likely contributing to climate change. Increasing obesity prevalence in a population increases GHG emissions from food production and car travel. It has been estimated that a population in which 40% of people are obese requires 19% more food energy than a population in which there is a normal BMI distribution.


Urbanisation: Fossil-fuel based transport adversely impacts on health and the environment. The IPCC states that 23% of global GHGs are from transport with road traffic constituting 75% of these emissions. The resulting physical inactivity from sedentary lifestyles is one of the four leading NCD risk factors and accounts for nearly a third of type 2 diabetes prevalence.


Global population: The world’s population is predicted to grow to nine billion by 2050, and such major population growth using our current models increases production, industrialisation, energy consumption and GHG emissions, all of which are driving type 2 diabetes and climate change.



A global challenge



Small island developing states at high risk of climate extremes are disproportionately affected by diabetes.

In regards to diabetes prevalence per capita, the highest-ranking countries are Micronesia, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Including Vanuatu, all these countries are also members of The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) within the UN Climate talks. AOSIS is a coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries that are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of global climate change, and where some of its members face the prospect of extinction.

Two thirds of diabetes is found in low and middle income countries. These countries are already burdened by climate impacts and are the countries that can least afford to deal with the increased pressure on health systems, the added mortality and expenditure of diabetes, as well as it’s related impacts such as blindness and amputations due to diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy.

However that is not to say that climate change and diabetes poses a problem just for low-income countries, but expands across the spectrum. Relatively oil and gas rich countries of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain also make up the top 10 in diabetes prevalence per capita, whilst according to the World Bank, these countries also make the top 10 in regards to carbon dioxide emissions per capita. The socio-economic impact of diabetes alone in such countries threatens to undermine wider development and the benefits of achieving of the Millennium Development Goals.


Breaking down the silos


Both of these issues need an interconnected and intergenerational vision that is sustainable and regenerative; this means looking beyond the typical 20-50 year national strategies, and striving for system solutions that can serve and be relevant for citizens in hundreds of years time; not just one generation.

Since social issues such as climate change and diabetes are cross-cutting by nature, one needs multiple stakeholders to effectively address the problem. Neither climate change or health policies actions be addressed in silo as they are largely being done on a local and global scale.

If there is one global constant, it is that the world is in flux. A systems approach is also needed to address climate change, diabetes and its interconnected issues. (Consider the link between climate change, diabetes, energy, food security, and education reform for instance). This collective impact approach is essential within this context to connect and provide links between the community, the private sector, international organisations, NGOs, government institutions, media and academia around solving social, economic and environmental issues.

On Future Generations Day at the UN climate talks, we are reminded that young people are often the ones who serve best as global key stone connectors, and the One Young World Community is a testament of this.