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Climate change and poverty

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Subject: Effects of global warming, Effects of climate change on humans, Bangladesh–Mexico relations, Tree credits, Political economy of climate change
Collection: Climate Change and Society, Effects of Global Warming, Poverty
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Climate change and poverty

In an ever-progressing world with an increasing demand for energy and animal agriculture,[1] 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. Although climate change affects everything we see around us, the interrelation between climate change and social vulnerability and inequality is particularly evident in impoverished communities. In particular, impoverished communities experience reductions in safe drinking water as well as food security as a result of climate change (OECD 2013). These typically rural, isolated communities do not exhibit sufficient financial and technical capacities to manage the risks associated with climate change (climate risk) (Skoufias 2012). Energy development and policy alteration could adjust the severity of climate change impacts; this is being tested now, as renewable energy sources develop.


  • Overview 1
  • Social development factors 2
    • Poverty 2.1
    • Infrastructure and landscape 2.2
    • Technology 2.3
    • Security 2.4
    • Economics 2.5
  • Energy development 3
    • Current energy 3.1
    • Alternatives to current energy 3.2
    • Empowerment and limitations 3.3
      • Vulnerability 3.3.1
      • Human rights and justice 3.3.2
  • Application of energy in society 4
    • Agricultural production and food security 4.1
    • Water insecurity 4.2
      • Rising sea levels and exposure to climate disasters 4.2.1
    • Ecosystems and biodiversity 4.3
    • Human health 4.4
  • Proposed policy solutions 5
    • Mitigation efforts 5.1
    • Adaptation efforts 5.2
    • Potential for change 5.3
    • Future development 5.4
  • Proposed policy challenges 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9


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 now more 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). To provide an example, during the Cold War, global capitalist expansion occurred, in order to secure markets and resources for the Western world (4). In the case of climate change, some, like McMichael, believe that the market has not yet invested enough in alternative energy research to reduce adverse climate change affects (4).

Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects of climate change due to increased exposure and vulnerability.[2][3] 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.[4] According to the United Nations Development Programme, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change.[5]

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

Social development factors


Energy has strong links with poverty reduction – through household income, health, education, gender, and the environment” (UN 2005).

The carbon footprint of the world’s most poverty-stricken billion people is only about 3 percent of the world’s total footprint, yet death rates are about 500 times greater in the regions where these individuals reside 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 obtain limited or no access to resources, causing them to be disadvantaged and unable to break the cycle; this cycle is referred to as the poverty trap.[6] In well-off 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, unproductive harvests, or even family members falling ill can facilitate crippling economic shocks.[7] Aside from these economic shocks, widespread famine, drought, and potential humanistic shocks can affect an 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 must cope with climate-related shocks under highly constrained conditions.[8]

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, and 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).

With climate change, availability of fresh water will reduce dramatically along areas with large coastal populations, especially those that are less economically stable, like some regions of Latin America (8). Approximately 22 million people faced water scarcity at the end of the twentieth century, and according to projections configured by the IPCC, the number of people likely to endure issues in water sanitation by 2050 is 79 to 178 million (IPCC 2013).

The UN-Energy corporation was formed at the request of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and released a report which argues that today’s climate-changing-world “entrenches poverty, constrains the delivery of social services, limits opportunities for women, and erodes environmental sustainability at the local, national and global levels” (UN 2005). According to the report, 2.4 billion individuals rely on biomass for cooking, while 1.6 billion people worldwide are without electricity. Consequently, there is an explicit connection between energy access and poverty reduction, often referred to energy poverty (UN 2005). Services such as heating, lighting, cooking, and transportation facilitate socioeconomic development, for they yield social benefits as well as employment and income (UN 2005). Integrated assessment modelling (IAMs) is utilized to quantify the current socioeconomic dimensions of climate change, and further predict future effects on nations (Skoufias 2012).

Infrastructure and landscape

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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[10]

Nevertheless, there are certain economically-viable solutions that can be implemented in urban settings, such as green roofs. Green roofs may “keep surface temperatures below the baseline level for all time periods and emissions scenarios” (Gill 2007). Another strategy is to maintain green space as often as possible, and integrate drought-resistant plantings (Gill 2007). Vegetation such as this can reduce heat that accumulates in buildings and thus diminish the need for air conditioning, which contributes to “both the greenhouse gas emissions as well as the intensification of the urban heat island through waste heat” (Niachou et al., 2001; Onmura et al., 2001; Papdakis et al., 2001).

Ross Garnaut, one of Australia’s most distinguished economists, examines the impacts and potential solutions of climate change in his review: the Garnaut Climate Change Review (Garnaut 2008). Garnaut speaks of the effects associated with deforestation, or the destruction of vegetation, concentrating on the region of Australia (Garnaut 2008). He argues that Australia should lead the way in making carbon capture storage viable, perhaps through biosequestration (Garnaut 2008).


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).

Other technologies, such as those involved in the carbon-capture of flue gas from power plants are prominent. With this technology, carbon dioxide is injected into oil reservoirs “to increase the mobility of the oil, and, therefore, the productivity of the reservoir,” while minimizing emissions (Herzog, et al. 1997). At the end of the twentieth century, capture plants utilized chemical absorption processes using the solvent monoethanolamine (MEA). Other processes include membrane separation, cryogenic fractionation, and adsorption using molecular sieves (Herzog). Another option for disposing of carbon dioxide is underground storage of carbon in geological formations (Herzog). For example, mined salt domes or rock caverns typically have a large storage capacity (Tek 1989). The ocean may have the greatest potential for storage of carbon dioxide – injection may occur using dry ice, injecting liquid carbon dioxide, creating a dense carbon dioxide-seawater mixture, etc. (Herzog). Although, greater research is necessary, concerning the physical-chemical interactions between seawater and carbon dioxide, ocean circulation and mixing, biological impacts, and ocean engineering (Herzog).


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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] All these processes will be accompanied by redistribution of population nationally and internationally.[12] 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.[13] Indeed, the effects of climate change on impoverished women and children is crucial in that women and children in particular, have unequal human capabilities.[14]


William D. Nordhaus, a Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, analyzes the DICE model (Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy) in order to determine the uncertainties and known benefits of several climate change policy approaches, including “no controls, economic optimization, geoengineering, stabilization of emission and climate, and a ten-year delay in undertaking climate change policies” (Nordhaus 1994). He uncovered that climate change is inevitable due to the increasing buildup of greenhouse gas emissions, yet can be slowed with efficient policy, in place of no controls or a ten-year delay (Nordhaus 1994). Efficient policy will reap economic benefits in comparison to no or little policy action (Nordhaus 1994).

Martin L. Weitzman, a Professor with the Department of Economics at Harvard University, explains that “economic consequences of fat-tailed structural uncertainty [of climate change] can readily outweigh the effects of discounting in climate-change policy analysis” (Weitzman 2009).

Energy development

Current energy

“Current energy services fail to meet the needs of the poor” (UN 2005).

Countries such as China have limited energy demand through aggressive and strictly-enforced energy-efficiency programs (Zhou 2010). The main components of these programs are close oversight of industry, issuing financial incentives, distribution of information through education and other venues, and research and development (Zhou 2010).

Alternatives to current energy

One way to promote environmental sustainability of energy supply is to introduce renewable energy (UN 2005).

“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


Vulnerability to water stress is determined almost exclusively by population and development pressure (Vorosmarty, et al., 2000). Vulnerability to agricultural practices depends on increasing water demands coupled with unsustainable water use (Vorosmarty, et al., 2000).

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.[15] Climate change will affect rainfall, temperature, and water availability for agriculture in vulnerable areas.[8] Climate change could affect agriculture in several ways including productivity, agricultural practices, environmental effects, and distribution of rural space.[16] 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.[8]

Countries, such as Indonesia and Mexico, are at the forefront of climate change, for they rely on crops such as rice and corn for income (Skoufias 2012).

Water insecurity

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.[17] As the overall climate of the earth warms, changes in the nature of global rainfall, evaporation, snow, and runoff flows will be affected.[18] 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.[19][20]

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 [16] 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.[16] 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.[21]

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).

Human health

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.[8] 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.[22] Over 90 percent of malaria and diarrhea deaths are borne by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries.[5] 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.[5] 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

Mitigation efforts

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.[23]

Adaptation efforts

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".[24] Poorer countries tend to be more seriously affected by climate change, yet have reduced assets and capacities with which to adapt.[24] 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.[24]

Potential for change

Future development

Policies and programs can help facilitate new technologies that will increase environmentally-sustainable energy production, but diminish the harmful effects of typical consumption (UN 2005). “Priorities include pricing energy to account for environmental costs, removing subsidies that increase harmful emissions, adopting incentives for beneficial new technologies during their market scale up stage, and promulgating regulatory standards for energy efficiency” (UN 2005). These objectives will demand the cooperation of all stakeholders (UN 2005).

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).

Rural areas would benefit from the removal of market barriers on modern fuels (UN 2005). Decentralizing decision-making and energy investments may also improve energy services in rural areas (UN 2005).

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.[5] 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.[25]

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).

See also


  1. ^ Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. . Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print
  2. ^
  3. ^ Richards 2003
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e
  6. ^
  7. ^ UNDP 1988
  8. ^ a b c d IPCC 2001
  9. ^ a b Jabeen and Mallick 2009
  10. ^ a b O’Leary 2008
  11. ^ a b Liotta 2006
  12. ^ a b Simon 2007
  13. ^ Delaney and Shrader 2000
  14. ^ UNICEF 2007, 47
  15. ^ IPCC 2007
  16. ^ a b c Schneider et al. 2007
  17. ^
  18. ^ Miller 1997
  19. ^ WHO/UNICEF 2008, 25
  20. ^ WHO/UNICEF JMP 2008
  21. ^ Sample 2005
  22. ^ WHO 2004
  23. ^ Molina et al 2009
  24. ^ a b c IDS 2008
  25. ^ La Trobe 2002


  • 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
  • IPCC. 2001. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC. Online at (Accessed October 23, 2010)
  • IPCC. 2007. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (Accessed on November 2, 2010).
  • IDS Bulletin. Poverty in a Changing Climate IDS Bulletin 39(4):2, September 2008
  • Jabeen, Huraera and Fuad H. Mallick. "Urban Poverty, climate change and built environment." The Daily Star. January 24, 2009.
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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
  • Molina, M.; Zaelke, D.; Sarmac, K. M.; Andersen, S. O.; Ramanathane, V.; Kaniaruf, D. (2009). "Tipping Elements in Earth Systems Special Feature: Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (49): 20616. doi:10.1073/pnas.0902568106. PMID 19822751. PMC 2791591. edit
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  • Simon, David. (2007), "Cities and Global Environmental Change: Exploring the Links," The Geographical Journal 173, 1 (March): 75–79 & see chapters 3 & 4 of Sir Nicholas Stern et al. (2007) Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. London: UK, Department of the Treasury
  • 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.
  • United Nations Development Programme. "Human Development Report 2007/2008: The 21st Century Climate Challenge." United Nations Development Programme, (Accessed October 23, 2010).
  • United Nations Development Programme. 1998. "Unequal Human Impacts of Environmental Damage," in Human Development Report 1998. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • United Nations Development Programme. 2006. "Human Development Report: Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty, and the Global Water Crisis." New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. (pp. 25–199).
  • UNICEF. 2007. Climate Change and Children. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.
  • Progress in Drinking-water and Sanitation: special focus on sanitation. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. July 17, 2008. p. 25.
  • Updated Numbers: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation Updated Report. 2008.
  • World Health Organization. 2004. The Global Burden Disease: 2004 Update.
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