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Unmitigated Climate Change Will Put 100 Million More in Poverty

Climate change will impoverish an additional 100 million people globally by 2030 if sufficient steps are not taken to mitigate global warming, according to a World Bank report.

The publication, “Shock Waves,” noted the intimate connection between climate change and poverty, emphasizing that they must be addressed together rather than in isolation.

“Ending poverty and addressing climate change are the two defining issues of our time,” the report began.

It said, “Ending poverty will not be possible if climate change and its effects on poor people are not accounted for and managed in development and poverty-reduction policies. But neither can the climate be stabilized without acknowledging that ending poverty is an utmost priority.”

Without sufficient measures to mitigate climate change, the world will likely see three issues that most significantly impact the world’s poor:

  • Higher agricultural prices (due to lower crop yields resulting from unstable weather patterns, such as drought and flooding)
  • A rise in climate-related diseases (such as malaria)
  • An increase in natural disasters (negatively impacting assets, health and education)

While these changes will impact everyone, “poor people are disproportionately affected – not only because they are often more exposed and invariably more vulnerable to climate-related shocks but also because they have fewer resources and receive less support from family, community, the financial system and even social safety nets to prevent, cope and adapt,” the World Bank noted.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the regions most vulnerable to increasing poverty levels resulting from climate change impacts.

The news was not all negative, however. The report stated that “rapid, inclusive and climate-informed development can prevent most (but not all) consequences of climate change on poverty.”

Climate-informed development, the World Bank explained, involves initiatives “designed to perform well under changing climate conditions so that they do not create new vulnerabilities to climate impacts.” Examples include:

  • Water and sanitation infrastructure resistance to contamination due to flooding from extreme rainfall
  • Housing developments only in locations not vulnerable to sea level rise, erosion or both
  • Agricultural aid focused on climate-resistant crops, livestock suited to a region’s conditions and transportation infrastructure to ensure reliable access to markets
  • Social safety net programs that are “a facilitator of – and not an obstacle to – long-term change and adaptation, for instance by facilitating migration … or making benefits more portable if the recipient decides to move to capture better opportunities”

Also emphasized in the report was that every nation must commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of “net global carbon emissions [being] brought down to zero” by 2100.

A live webcast took place on Thursday, Nov. 12, in which Stéphane Hallegatte, the report’s lead author and a senior economist within the World Bank’s climate change group, provided an overview of the findings. His remarks were followed by a panel discussion with several other World Bank staff.

Too often climate change is discussed in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Hallegatte noted, which means the focus is on the world’s wealthiest peoples and nations.

This can lead to overlooking the impact of climate change-related events on the world’s poor, who can be significantly affected even when middle income and richer nations (and the global GDP) are not.

Therefore, he said, “the main innovation of the report: we did not start by looking at the impact of climate change on national economies and then the implication for poverty. We started from poverty … from household surveys looking at the situation of poor people … and we looked at the impact on households, on families, on people and then tried to look at the consequences at the economic level.”

The full report is available here.