Climate change and poverty
1. Context, definition and progress made:
- Climate change and poverty are intrinsically linked and together they represent one of the key couplings to be addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Climate change has a two-fold effect on less developed countries and communities when it comes to poverty, because not only is it one of the root causes of poverty; but it also perpetuates this condition by limiting the possibilities for economic development and growth.
- Direct impact due to greater exposure: Less developed communities bear the brunt of the direct impact of climate change because their level of exposure is higher, as these societies are more reliant on the agricultural sector and on traditional subsistence-based systems.
- Higher dependence on agriculture: Rural areas present lower levels of human and economic development. Climate change clearly affects the quality and quantity of harvests. This is due to the appearance of droughts in some territories, rising temperatures and increased rainfall (which leads to the emergence of new pests) in others and the proliferation of extreme weather events. The backbone of the economy in these societies is agriculture and therefore dwindling harvests lead to situations of difficulty in accessing food and increased health problems.
- Traditional subsistence-based systems: Regions with lower levels of development have structures based on traditional subsistence-based systems that are very well adapted to very extreme climates in the majority of cases. That is why even small variations in climate present major challenges for the delicate balances that these societies have achieved. These extreme events also lead to significant loss of human life and material possessions.
- Migratory flows: the migratory flows associated to extreme climate events or the damages linked to loss of harvests are among the most significant drivers of migration, generating on average 21.5 million displacements per year in the 2008-2015 period.
- Perpetuation of the conditions that cause poverty: As well as limiting the possibilities for development, climate change prevents small advances in improving the quality of life in these societies from succeeding, perpetuating the poverty situation.
- Lack of adaptability: Adapting to climate change requires technology and financial resources. However, the less developed countries are lacking in these resources and the few that they do have go towards meeting basic needs.
- The increased pressure on natural resources (as a result of the worsening scarcity due to climate change) can lead to new armed conflicts that result in new losses of human lives and material possessions. These armed conflicts also give rise to new migratory flows.
Climate change policies promote the alleviation of poverty in the long term and can be beneficial in the short term as long as they are accompanied by the right social policies.
- The Paris Agreement, which strives for global action on a joint basis, has boosted climate action based on the notion of “common but shared responsibilities”, as reflected in the different contributions to combating climate change by the various countries. In designing the national contributions, the economic status of the countries and the resources available to them were taken into account. Many of them have introduced measures that are conditional on the implementation of policies of collaboration with the less developed countries.
2. Call for action:
- Initiatives in the area of climate change, and in particular those that affect the degree of exposure of less developed communities to climate change, should be carried out as part of the global framework for action represented by the SDGs, so that the benefits derived from each of the policies on the other goals may be analysed on a joint basis.
- It is necessary to review the needs of the various economies as regards adapting to and mitigating climate change so as to have a clear idea of the actual investment needs required by these economies.
- The developed countries should implement policies that promote technology transfer so that developing countries can implement modern, sustainable technological solutions. This technology transfer should be based on specific technological development so that it is possible to adapt innovations to the location where they are going to be used and thus ensure that projects are successful. This means it is possible to combine economic growth in less developed countries with meeting the target of keeping the increase in temperature below 2ºC.
Climate action will free up important new sources of finance that should be used as levers for economic growth. To this end, priority should be given to activities that focus on combating climate change with greater alleviation of poverty situations and therefore increased well-being in society.
- Ban Ki-moon:
- “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth — these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”