Climate change and poverty
In an ever-progressing world which withholds an increasing demand for energy, it is difficult to avoid climate change and its impacts on societies both locally and globally. Climate change affects social development factors, such as, poverty, infrastructure, technology, security, and economics across the globe. The interrelation between climate change and social vulnerability and inequality is evident, particularly in impoverished communities. Energy development and policy alteration could adjust the severity of climate change impacts; this is being tested now, as renewable energies develop.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Social Development Factors
- 3 Energy Development
- 4 Application of Energy in Society
- 5 Proposed policy solutions
- 6 Proposed policy challenges
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report projects that there is likely to be at least a 0.4-1.6 Celsius increase in global mean surface temperature by the period of 2046-2065 and likely a sea level rise of 0.17-0.32 meters by this time due to recent trends relative to 1986-2005 (IPCC 2013). The report claims that “over the period 1993 to 2010, global mean sea level rise is, with high confidence, consistent with the sum of the observed contributions from ocean thermal expansion due to warming…the sum of these contributions is 2.8 mm/yr” (IPCC 2013). Glaciers and ice sheets are clearly melting more now than they have been in recent history. Not only that, but “the global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation” (IPCC 2013).
The impacts that climate change has had on development in recent years are significant. According to McMichael, an International Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell University, the “development theory” signifies the market as “the vehicle for social change,” for the market allocates resources (McMichael 2011) (4). Privatization then follows the market influence to enable or prevent development. In consideration of climate change, the market has most likely not yet invested enough in alternative energy research to reduce adverse climate change affects and enable social change in low-income communities around the world (4).
Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects of climate change due to increased exposure and vulnerability. Vulnerability represents the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change including climate variability and environmental extremes. Also, a lack of capacity available for coping with environmental change is experienced in lower-income communities. According to the United Nations Development Programme, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change.
Climate change raises some climate ethics issues, as the least 50 developed countries of the world account for an imbalanced 1% contribution to the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gasses which are theorized to be attributable to global warming. The issue of distributive justice questions how to fairly share the benefits and burdens of climate change policy options. Many of the policy tools often employed to solve environmental problems, such as cost-benefit analysis, usually do not adequately handle with these issues because they often ignore questions of just distribution and the effects on human rights.
Social Development Factors
The carbon footprint of the world’s most unfortunate billion people is only about 3 percent of the world’s total footprint, yet death rates are about 500 times greater in these regions than in the Global North (1). Moreover, it is estimated that climatic disasters will cause affects to 375 million people a year by 2015, and “up to a billion people will be forced out of their homes by 2050 due to climate change” (1).
The cycle of poverty exacerbates the potential negative impacts of climate change. This phenomenon is defined when poor families become trapped in poverty for at least three generations and when they have limited or no access to resources and are disadvantaged in means of breaking the cycle. While in rich countries, coping with climate change has largely been a matter of adjusting thermostats, dealing with longer, hotter summers, and observing seasonal shifts; for those in poverty, weather-related disasters, a bad harvest, or even a family member falling ill can provide crippling economic shocks. Besides these economic shocks, the widespread famine, drought, and potential humanistic shocks could affect the entire nation. High levels of poverty and low levels of human development limit capacity of poor households to manage climate risks. With limited access to formal insurance, low incomes and meagre assets, poor households have to cope with climate-related shocks under highly constrained conditions.
The availability of freshwater will be dramatically reduced along areas with large coastal populations, especially those that are less fortunate, like regions of Latin America (8). Approximately 22 million people were faced with water scarcity at the end of the century, and according to projections configured by the IPCC, the number of people likely to endure issues in water sanitation is 79 million to 178 by 2050 (IPCC 2013).
Impoverished communities tend to be more dependent on climate-sensitive sectors and natural resources for survival, so climate change poses an extreme threat on the livelihood, food security of health of the poor; women are particularly vulnerable (4). The Kyoto Protocol established the Clean Development Mechanism, supposedly to provide “global benefits from carbon sequestration as well as sustainable development benefits to developing countries (4).
The potential effects of climate change and the security of infrastructure will have the most direct effect on the poverty cycle. Areas of infrastructure effects will include water systems, housing and settlements, transport networks, utilities, and industry. Infrastructure designers can contribute in three areas for improving living environment for the poor, in building design, in settlement planning and design as well as in urban planning. The National Research Council has identified five climate changes of particular importance to infrastructure and factors that should be taken into consideration when designing future structures. These factors include: increases in very hot days and heat waves, increases in Arctic temperatures, rising sea levels, increases in intense precipitation events, and increases in hurricane intensity. The UK Climate Impacts Program established the Building Knowledge for a Changing Climate program, which works to strategize urban design in order to adapt to and diminish the effects of climate change (36). Under this program, architects, such as the American architect Michael Graves, consider that buildings, depending on their locations, are more vulnerable or more susceptible to flooding impacts. Green infrastructure, which absorbs rainwater, could alleviate some of these flood concerns, particularly in cities with little green space (36). Accordingly, transportation decision makers continually make short- and long-term investment decisions that affect how infrastructure will respond to climate change.
Two renewable technologies – solar water heaters and biodiesel – have helped improve the welfare of homes in South Africa (24). Improved technologies, such as these, also provide job opportunities and skills development, which could contribute to poverty alleviation (24).
The concept of Human security and the effects that climate change may have on it will become increasingly important as the changes become more apparent. Some effects are already evident and will become very clear in the human and climatic short run (2007–2020). They will increase and others will manifest themselves in the medium term (2021–2050); whilst in the long run (2051–2100), they will all be active and interacting strongly with other major trends. There is the potential for the end of the petroleum economy for many producing and consuming nations, possible financial and economic crisis, a larger population of humans, and a much more urbanized humanity – far in excess of the 50% now living in small to very large cities. All these processes will be accompanied by redistribution of population nationally and internationally. Such redistributions typically have significant gender dimensions; for example, extreme event impacts can lead to male out migration in search of work, culminating in an increase in women-headed households – a group often considered particularly vulnerable. Indeed, the effects of climate change on impoverished women and children is crucial in that women and children in particular, have unequal human capabilities.
Alternatives to Current Energy
“The Brazilian ethanol program provides fuel for more than 5 million cars each year. It has created 720,000 jobs directly and 200,000 indirectly in rural areas, curbed city air pollution and avoided 6 to 10 million tons of carbon emission per year since 1980” (4).
Empowerment and Limitations
Human Rights and Justice
Application of Energy in Society
Agricultural production and food security
There has been considerable research comparing the interrelated processes of climate change and agriculture. Climate change will affect rainfall, temperature, and water availability for agriculture in vulnerable areas. Climate change could affect agriculture in several ways including productivity, agricultural practices, environmental effects, and distribution of rural space. Additional number affected by malnutrition could rise to 600 million by 2080. Climate change could worsen the prevalence of hunger through direct negative effects on production and indirect impacts on purchasing powers.
Of the 3 billion growth in population projected worldwide by the mid-21st century, the majority will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. As the overall climate of the earth warms, changes in the nature of global rainfall, evaporation, snow, and runoff flows will be affected. Safe water sources are essential for survival within a community. Manifestations of the projected water crisis include inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people as well as inadequate access to water for sanitation and water disposal for 2.5 billion people.
Rising sea levels and exposure to climate disasters
Sea levels could rise rapidly with accelerated ice sheet disintegration. Sea level rise brings risk to coastal groundwater aquifers, which increases vulnerability to saline intrusion (8). For example, with the compounding effects of sea level rise and overexploitation of aquifers, saline intrusion has greatly hindered vital groundwater resources in Lima, Peru, and has hindered much of the city’s water supply (8). Global temperature increases of 3–4 degrees C could result in 330 million people being permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding  Frequent flooding has occurred in northeast Argentina, Bolivia, southern Brazil, Ecuador, northwest Mexico, Paraguay, northwest Peru, and Uruguay (8). Warming seas will also fuel more intense tropical storms. The changes in temperature of water will cause the autopurification rate at which streams degrade organic loads to fluctuate, which will result in issues of water quality (8). Of particular concern are parts of Mexico, like the Balsas, South Pacific, and southern frontier basins are highly vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding (8). Extreme droughts are also the result of climate change. La Nina-related droughts have affected farming practices in western Argentina and in central Chile, while El Nino-related droughts have diminished the circulation of the Cauca River in Colombia (8).
Ecosystems and biodiversity
Climate change is already transforming Ecological systems. Around one-half of the world’s coral reef systems have suffered bleaching as a result of warming seas. In addition, the direct human pressures that might be experienced include overfishing which could lead to resource depletion, nutrient and chemical pollution and poor land use practices such as deforestation and dredging. Also, climate change may increase the amount of arable land in high-latitude regions by reduction of the amount of frozen lands. A 2005 study reports that temperature in Siberia has increased three degree Celsius in average since 1960, which is reportedly more than in other areas of the world.
By 2050, over one million plant and animal species will grow extinct due to climate change (1). The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) predicts that by 2100, climate change will be the dominant cause of biodiversity loss (4).
Forests release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when cut down or burnt. Land use changes, particularly deforestation in tropical regions — where forests tend to be very rich in biodiversity — are responsible for roughly 18 percent of human-driven carbon dioxide emissions (4).
A direct effect is increase in temperature-related illnesses and deaths related to prolonged heat waves and humidity. Climate change could also change the geographic range of vector-borne, specifically mosquito-borne disease such as malaria and dengue fever exposing new populations to the disease. Because a changing climate affects the essential ingredients of maintaining good health: clean air and water, sufficient food and adequate shelter, the effects could be widespread and pervasive. The report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health points out that disadvantaged communities are likely to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change because of their increased exposure and vulnerability to health threats. Over 90 percent of malaria and diarrhea deaths are borne by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries. Other severely affected population groups include women, the elderly and people living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, mega-cities or mountainous areas. According to researchers from the University College Institute for Global Health, health effects of climate change are likely to deepen in both low- and middle-income communities (1).
Proposed policy solutions
Climate change mitigation is the action to decrease the intensity of radiative forcing in order to reduce the potential effects of global warming. Most often, mitigation efforts involve reductions in the concentrations of greenhouse gases, either by reducing their source or by increasing their sinks.
Adaptation to global warming involves actions to tolerate the effects of global warming. Collaborative research from the Institute of Development Studies draws links between adaptation and poverty to help develop an agenda for pro-poor adaptation that can inform climate-resilient poverty reduction. Adaptation to climate change will be "ineffective and inequitable if it fails to learn and build upon an understanding of the multidimensional and differentiated nature of poverty and vulnerability". Poorer countries tend to be more seriously affected by climate change, yet have reduced assets and capacities with which to adapt. This has led to more activities to integrate adaptation within development and poverty reduction programs. The rise of adaptation as a development issue has been influenced by concerns around minimizing threats to progress on poverty reduction, notably the Millennium Development Goals, and by the injustice of impacts that are felt hardest by those who have done least to contribute to the problem, framing adaptation as an equity and human rights issue.
Potential for Change
Proposed policy challenges
Most difficult policy challenge is related to distribution. While this is a potential catastrophic risk for the entire globe, the short and medium-term distribution of the costs and benefits will be far from uniform. Distribution challenge is made particularly difficult because those who have largely caused the problem – richer nations – are not going to be those who suffer the most in the short term. It is the poorest who did not and still are not contributing significantly to green house gas emissions that are the most vulnerable.
Developed countries have started levying new taxes in order to help aid the global poverty-reduction and adaptation efforts related to climate change (1). For example, France has imposed taxes on international flights to aid HIV/AIDS in Africa, and a fifth of the money from the EU’s emissions-trading scheme has contributed to climate change-related improvements (1).
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- Marger (2008). Examples of these disadvantages working in a circular process would be: economic decline, low personal income, no funds for school, which leads to lack of education. The lack of education results in unemployment and lastly low national productivity. ‘‘Social Inequality: Patterns and Processes.’’ McGraw Hill publishing. 4th edition. ISBN 0-07-352815-3
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- Updated Numbers: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation Updated Report. 2008. http://www.unicef.org/media/media_44093.html
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