Poverty and climate change
The poorest people and the poorest countries are being hit hardest by climate change. Yet they bear least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts. As the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development states, “the adverse effects of climate change are already evident, natural disasters are more frequent and more devastating and developing countries more vulnerable.” While climate change is a global phenomenon, its negative impacts are more severely felt by poor people and poor countries. They are more vulnerable because of their high dependence on natural resources, and their limited capacity to cope with climate variability and extremes.
Experience suggests that the best way to address climate change impacts on the poor is by integrating adaptation responses into development planning. This is fundamental to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including the over-arching goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015, and sustaining progress beyond 2015.
The most recent OECD report (below) is clear that ‘Climate change is happening and will increasingly affect the poor.’ and states that ‘Adaptation is necessary and there is a need to integrate responses to climate change and adaptation measures into strategies for poverty reduction to ensure sustainable development.’ http://www.oecd.org/env/cc/2502872.pdf
Current development strategies tend to overlook climate change risks and this will prove disastrous for the world’s poor if we do not act.
The 2009 Human Impact Report claims that 300,000 people a year are already dying from the effects of climate change – and a further four billion are vulnerable to effects such as:
drought and water shortages, floods and other extreme weather
crop failures and food insecurity, reduced productivity
loss of low-lying lands and islands
loss of biodiversity, ecosystem services
spread of diseases
Why climate change threatens development
Many poor people live in regions that are susceptible to changes in the climate, for example drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa, or in marginal areas such as floodplains or unstable hillsides. Poor people also tend to rely heavily on activities such as agriculture, fishing and collecting natural resources, which are sensitive to climate change. Poor people have limited safety nets or insurance mechanisms to help them cope with climate change-related shocks, such failed harvests linked to changing weather patterns and loss or damage linked to increased natural disasters.
Climate change and food security
FAO estimates that around one billion people are undernourished, and that each year more than three million children die from undernutrition before their fifth birthday. Micronutrient deficiencies, which affect about two billion people, lead to poor growth, blindness, increased severity of infections and sometimes death. The root causes of world hunger - including rural poverty, population growth and environmental degradation - are exacerbated by the global economic slowdown, volatile food prices and the impact of climate change.
Climate change is a hunger risk multiplier, threatening to undermine hard-won gains in eradicating hunger and poverty. Current projections indicate that unless considerable efforts are made to improve vulnerable people’s resilience, 20 percent more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate The 2007-08 food crisis, when the surge in food costs sparked riots across developing countries, had its roots in a series of droughts around the world, including Argentina and Vietnam. The Russian wheat export ban in 2010-11, also led to instability in African states.
“Climate will play an even more prominent role in food security,” said Josef Schmidhuber at the Food and Agriculture Organization, one of the three agencies behind the annual agricultural report.
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said “Food security and climate change are interlinked. Hundreds of millions of people are undernourished or face food insecurity, and climate change is making it harder to feed a growing population.”
Water and poverty
The quality of water resources is increasingly threatened by pollution. Human activity over the past 50 years is responsible for unprecedented pollution of water resources in history. It is estimated that over 2.5 billion people globally live without adequate sanitation.
Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and other effluents drain into the world’s waters. The problem is worse in developing countries where over 90% of raw sewage and 70% of untreated industrial wastes are dumped into surface waters. Many of the water pollutants have long-term negative impacts on water quality, constituting a risk to human health. As a result fresh water is severely reduced. Also, the ability of ecosystems to provide services is drastically reduced, at times with irreversible effects. Consequently the environment is degraded through decreased productivity of biomass, loss of biodiversity and vulnerability to other stresses.
It is far cheaper to protect water resources than to clean up after pollution. Protection and maintenance of aquatic environments ensures the sustainability of their ecosystem services i.e. benefits such as potable water, fisheries, recreation and tourism. For instance fully-functioning natural wetlands filter off nutrients and toxic substances from water.
Increased funding is required to protect ecosystems and prevent water pollution. Funding should support, and be complemented with, concerted well targeted awareness raising initiatives on water quality issues.
Declining water quality has become a global issue of concern as human populations grow, industrial and agricultural activities expand, and climate change threatens to cause major alterations to the hydrological cycle.
Globally, the most prevalent water quality problem is eutrophication, a result of high-nutrient loads (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen), which substantially impairs beneficial uses of water. Major nutrient sources include agricultural runoff, domestic sewage (also a source of microbial pollution), industrial effluents and atmospheric inputs from fossil fuel burning and bush fires. Lakes and reservoirs are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of eutrophication because of their complex dynamics, relatively longer water residence times and their role as an integrating sink for pollutants from their drainage basins. Nitrogen concentrations exceeding 5 milligrams per litre of water often indicate pollution from human and animal waste or fertilizer runoff from agricultural areas.
An emerging water quality concern is the impact of personal care products and pharmaceuticals, such as birth control pills, painkillers and antibiotics, on aquatic ecosystems. Poor water quality has a direct impact on water quantity in a number of ways. Polluted water that cannot be used for drinking, bathing, industry or agriculture effectively reduces the amount of useable water within a given area.
Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences the Earth's ecosystems and therefore people’s livelihoods and well-being.
Already, water-related climate change impacts are being experienced in the form of more severe and more frequent droughts and floods. Higher average temperatures and changes in precipitation and temperature extremes are projected to affect the availability of water resources through changes in rainfall distribution, soil moisture, glacier and ice/snow melt, and river and groundwater flows; these factors are expected to lead to further deterioration of water quality as well. The poor, who are the most vulnerable, are also likely to be affected the most.
Key questions for research
1. What are the key issues for your country and region?
2. How is an increasing population, urbanisation or migration impacting upon your country and its water supply?
3. How is your country tackling rural poverty, population pressures and dwindling water supplies?
4. How has your country implemented legislation that protects the environment, food supplies and water supplies?
5. Which international agreements is your country a signatory to?
6. Will you meet the MDG targets by 2015?
Delegates… how can we:
...(including an active civil society and open, transparent, and accountable policy and decision making processes, which can have a critical bearing on the way in which policies and institutions respond to the impact of climatic factors on the poor.)
Take steps towards mainstreaming climate issues?
...(into all national, sub-national, and sectoral planning processes, such as Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) or national strategies for sustainable development.)
Encourage sectors with a broad mandate,
...(such as planning or finance), to be fully involved…? (in mainstreaming adaptation - especially in countries where major climate impacts are expected)
...(at the government and institutional level with bottom-up approaches rooted in regional, national, and local knowledge)
...so that they can participate in assessments and feed in their knowledge to provide useful climate-poverty information. They will also need full access to climate relevant information systems.
Assess vulnerability to the causes of poverty?
Promote access to good quality information
...about the impacts of climate change. This is key for effective poverty reduction strategies. Early warning systems and information distribution systems
Help to anticipate and prevent disasters.
Increase the resilience of livelihoods and infrastructure?
... (as a key component of an effective poverty reduction strategy. Similarly, effective adaptation strategies should build upon, and sustain, existing livelihoods