This is the warning Mr Andrew Hewett, Executive Director of Oxfam Australia, will give when he speaks today at the 2009 University of Newcastle Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture.
In his speech, Climate Change, People and Poverty: Why Australia should lead by example, Mr Hewett warns that without immediate action, 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.
"Climate change is the emerging human rights issue of our time," Mr Hewett said.
"We need to move our thinking on climate change beyond economics, carbon trading, emissions reduction and offsets.
"When we hinge the debate on each person's right to essentials of life such as food, water, shelter, and security, we move away from the assumption that everything - from carbon, to disease to malnutrition - can be priced, compared and traded. Climate change then becomes an issue about people."
Oxfam predicts 375 million people worldwide will be affected by climate disasters by 2015. Mr Hewett said for these people, climate change was as real as a redundancy or a repossession notice, or a daily missed meal, or a parent's fear for the safety of a child.
"The challenge for organisations like Oxfam is that Australians are not making the connection between climate change and poverty. We need to look beyond our own backyard and understand that climate change is infringing on people's rights," Mr Hewett said.
Oxfam Australia is an Australian, independent, not-for-profit, community-based aid and development organisation.
Mr Hewett became Executive Director of Oxfam Australia in October, 2001, having worked with Oxfam Australia (formally Oxfam Community Aid Abroad) since 1991. He established the agency's advocacy program and has driven Oxfam's increasing focus on lobbying governments, public education and campaigning on social justice and development issues.
The 2009 University of Newcastle Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture will be delivered by Andrew Hewett at 1pm Friday 18 September in the Griffith Duncan Theatre, Callaghan campus.
Media are welcome.
For interviews with Andrew Hewett, contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Sunita Bose on 0407 555 960.
To view Mr Hewett's speech in full, click here.
To view the edited excerpt of Mr Hewett's speech, click here.