Climate change is often described in numbers - degrees of temperature rise, metric tonnes of carbon emissions. These numbers add up to devastating consequences: erratic rainfall, crop failure, hunger. But climate change also has a human face.
The Roy family lives in Kaya Benia village in Bangladesh. Archona and Priambandhu have been married for 28 years and have four children. Over this period, their situation has changed dramatically.
They once had 11 acres of fertile land, but cyclones and floods have reduced this to two acres. They used to have a paddy that produced 2,000 kg of rice. This has been lost to rising sea levels in the delta.
Farming is no longer viable, so they've turned to fishing and growing a few vegetables to feed themselves. But salination has reduced the fertility of their land, which means the vegetables are low quality too.
"We are suffering, losing our land and house," says Archona. "We don't know the future, but we can assume that we will lose it all. Can we get anything from the world to help us survive this situation?
"If we just had the land beneath our feet, then we could adapt to climate change."
Archona and Priambandhu are not alone. Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, families and communities are struggling with the impacts of climate change.
Dried Up, Drowned Out 2012, a new report from Tearfund, brings some of these experiences together, enabling poor communities to speak for themselves.
DRIED UP, DROWNED OUT
In 2005, Tearfund asked some of its partner organisations working with poor communities around the world about their experiences of climate change. We asked them whether they felt the climate was changing and, if so, how it was affecting people's lives.
The result was the first Dried Up, Drowned Out report, which showed that poor communities were already suffering the effects of climate change. It also argued that serious international action on climate change was needed to help them.
As world leaders gather next week at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, two decades after the original Earth Summit on environmental sustainability, we wanted to find out what has changed.
Many of the same partner organisations were approached, together with some new communities, to provide a broad understanding of the current situation.
Their answers indicate that communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America are experiencing more severe and dramatic climate change than in 2005.
In addition, year-on-year changes in the climate mean that, although people are trying to adapt, it's hard to keep up with the pace of change.
As well as learning about people's experiences, we asked what responses are needed to the challenges posed by climate change. Their answers can be summarised as adaptation, mitigation and justice.
Rev Liton Mrong from Tearfund partner Garo Baptist Convention in Bangladesh says, "Adaptation is hindered by a lack of proper resources, a lack of knowledge at the local and national level, and an unwillingness of international countries to provide support."
Communities are already doing what they can to adapt to changing weather patterns.
In Bangladesh, people like Archona and Priambandhu are using a range of measures. These include establishing floating gardens, raising the sides of ponds, putting houses on raised plinths to avoid flooding, and establishing kitchen gardens. Tree-planting schemes are also taking root.
The government of Bangladesh, like those of India and Nepal, has established climate change plans. These now need to be implemented at a local level, turning theory into practice. Training, education and financial support are all needed to achieve this.
The communities we spoke to urged rich nations and their governments to:
- Get serious about cutting emissions globally
- Respect the commitments made to reduce greenhouse gases and finance sustainable development
- Commit to investments on the necessary scale and in the long term. NGOs working on climate change have estimated that by 2020 at least $200 billion per year will be needed for adaptation and mitigation
- Follow through on internationally binding agreements
- Face the truth: climate change is happening. It's not science fiction.
It's time to remind those attending Rio+20 of the urgent need to address climate change now. It is not a problem of the future but one that needs to be tackled today.
We hope that the summit will lead to greater international action on climate change, in particular through progress on decreasing global carbon emissions, raising the promised $100bn a year for climate finance and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.
The communities surveyed in Dried Up, Drowned Out 2012 call on rich nations and their leaders to tackle injustice, nationally and internationally, and to pay attention to the views and experiences of poor communities. Rio+20 is an opportunity to do just that.
Laura Taylor is head of public policy at Tearfund.