Climate change and poverty

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Climate change and poverty are interrelated events. While global warming affect the natural environment, especially agriculture, it also affects humans. Climate change globally increases cycles of poverty, particularly in low-income communities. The international community has enshrined the intertwined issues of economic development and developing a sustainability in the Sustainable Development Goals.


Demonstration against climate poverty (2007)

Climate change's adverse effects mostly impact poor and low-income communities around the world. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects climate change due to increased exposure and vulnerability.[1] 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 extremes. Also, a lack of capacity available for coping with environmental change is experienced in lower-income communities.[2] According to the United Nations Development Programme, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change.[3]

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.[3] 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 deal with these issues because they often ignore questions of just distribution and the effects on human rights.

Poverty impacts[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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 meager assets, poor households have to deal with climate-related shocks under highly constrained conditions.[6]

Reversing development[edit]

Climate change is globally encompassing and can reverse development in some areas in the following ways.

Agricultural production and food security[edit]

There has been considerable research comparing the interrelated processes of climate change and agriculture.[7] Climate change will affect rainfall, temperature, and water availability for agriculture in vulnerable areas.[6] Climate change could affect agriculture in several ways including productivity, agricultural practices, environmental effects, and distribution of rural space.[8] 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.[6]

Water insecurity[edit]

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.[9] As the overall climate of the earth warms, changes in the nature of global rainfall, evaporation, snow, and runoff flows will be affected.[10] 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.[11]

Rising sea levels and exposure to climate disasters[edit]

Sea levels could rise rapidly with accelerated ice sheet disintegration. Global temperature increases of 3–4 degrees C could result in 330 million people being permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding [8] Warming seas will also fuel more intense tropical storms.[8]

Ecosystems and biodiversity[edit]

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.[12]

Human health[edit]

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 dengue fever exposing new populations to the disease.[6] 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.[13] Over 90 percent of malaria and diarrhea deaths are borne by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries.[3] 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.[3]

Human rights and democracy[edit]

In June 2019, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston warned of a "climate apartheid" where the rich pay to escape the effects of climate change while the rest of the world suffers, potentially undermining basic human rights, democracy, and even the rule of law. When Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012, he recounts, most people in New York City were left without power, while the Goldman Sachs headquarters had a private generator and protection by "tens of thousands of its own sandbags".[14]

Security impacts[edit]

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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[16] All these processes will be accompanied by redistribution of population nationally and internationally.[16] 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.[17] Indeed, the effects of climate change on impoverished women and children is crucial in that women and children in particular, have unequal human capabilities.[18]

Infrastructure impacts[edit]

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.[19] 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.[19] 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.[20] Accordingly, transportation decision makers continually make short- and long-term investment decisions that affect how infrastructure will respond to climate change.[20]

Proposed policy solutions[edit]

Mitigation efforts[edit]

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.[21]

Adaptation efforts[edit]

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".[22] Poorer countries tend to be more seriously affected by climate change, yet have reduced assets and capacities with which to adapt.[22] 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.[22]

Proposed policy challenges[edit]

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.[3] 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.[23]


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  2. ^ Smit, B, I. Burton, R.J.T. Klein, and R. Street (1999). "The Science of Adaption: A framework for Assessment". Mitigation and Adaption Stretegies for Global Change. 4: 199–213.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Human Development Report 2007/2008: The 21st Century Climate Challenge" (PDF). United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  4. ^ Marger (2008). Social Inequality: Patterns and Processes, 4th edition. McGraw Hill publishing. ISBN 0-07-352815-3.
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  11. ^ Updated Numbers: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation Updated Report. 2008., 25
  12. ^ Sample, Ian. "Warming hits ‘tipping point’" The Guardian. August 11, 2005. (Accessed on November 12, 2010).
  13. ^ World Health Organization. 2004. The Global Burden Disease: 2004 Update.
  14. ^ Carrington, Damian (25 June 2019). "'Climate apartheid': UN expert says human rights may not survive". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
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  17. ^ Delaney and Elizabeth Shrader (2000) "Gender and Post-Disaster Reconstruction: The Case of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras and Nicaragua", LCSPG/LAC Gender Team, The World Bank, Decision Review Draft, page 24
  18. ^ UNICEF. 2007. Climate Change and Children. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund. p. 47
  19. ^ a b Jabeen, Huraera and Fuad H. Mallick. "Urban Poverty, climate change and built environment." The Daily Star. January 24, 2009.
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  22. ^ a b c IDS Bulletin. Poverty in a Changing Climate IDS Bulletin 39(4):2, September 2008
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