By Tatiana LeGrand, Humanitas Global
2015 was declared the hottest year on record. Ethiopian farmers continue to lose livestock, often their primary source of income, to drought and extreme heat. Climate change impacts on crop yields can occur through changes in weather patterns, natural disasters and relocation of agricultural pests. If a natural disaster strikes unexpectedly, the poor are particularly exposed to losses of food and livestock along with their financial assets in the absence of saving mechanisms and social safety nets. In the aftermath, these communities become more vulnerable to diseases due to shortages in clean water supply and poor or no sanitation at all. With numerous research findings showing how bad climate change effects can be for the environment, human health and agricultural production, it is important to talk about poverty in these realms.
Recently published by the World Bank, the book Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty highlights that 100 million people could fall back into poverty by 2030. In October 2015, the World Bank updated the poverty line to USD 1.90 per day replacing the previous line of USD 1.25. This decision was made to reflect the changes in the cost of living across the world. Despite the changes in the cost of living, however, over 700 million remained in extreme poverty in 2015. Those communities are particularly exposed to climate-related shocks. Therefore, it is crucial to converge poverty reduction and climate resilience building efforts.
While poverty and climate change are included in the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s important to understand how the two influence one another to develop stronger responses and action for eradicating poverty and building resilience to climate change. Poor communities are often vulnerable to climate change effects as they are more dependent on the surrounding environment and natural resources as a source of income and livelihood. Extreme drought events, increased flooding and changes in weather patterns can have immediate and devastating effects on such communities. Regions experiencing some of the most adverse consequences of climate change include South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Pacific. These same regions are home to large numbers of impoverished people.
Shock waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, a report by the World Bank
The key finding of the recent World Bank report is that eradicating poverty won’t be feasible if addressed outside of the climate change realm. According to the report, specific actions are needed to address poverty eradication under climate change conditions. Some of the actions needed include:
- Creating social nets and ensuring that they are robust
- Improving health systems
- Introducing immediate emissions-reduction policies
- Introducing targeted adaptation interventions
- Research and development on health issues, eradication and control efforts targeted at diseases like malaria
- Improving land-use regulations and creating better infrastructure
What else can be done to eradicate poverty? Living just above the poverty line is clearly not a sufficient buffer to poverty, especially with looming climate-related shocks. But how do we move forward to achieve the SDGs in the realm of climate change?
As much as it is about policy responses, climate-smart technologies and interventions, it is also about community action support and education. In a way, it is about building resilience in communities.
Learning how to use information
Growing technology use in many developing countries such as cell phones, often used as tools for cash transfers and weather information source, should be utilized to provide context-specific information that can help communities build resilience. Supporting farmers to interpret and implement information they receive via phones is feasible and should be scaled up.
The poor are frequently guardians of diversity, through production of indigenous crops and raising traditional livestock breeds. Building resilience to climate change in poor communities often means utilizing resources that they already have and empowering them through education on sustainable utilization and management.
Building resilience among women, youth and communities
The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, an environmental organization that empowers communities to conserve the environment while improving livelihoods,owes its success to women. Women have been the primary target group tasked with improving the local environment and community well being through tree-planting. Women all over the globe have a breadth of responsibilities; making decisions about the food the family will eat, preparing food, collecting fuel and water, safeguarding the health of the children, farming or gardening. Unfortunately, women are also often the first to suffer the consequences of climate change. As women play such a large role in family and community well being, along with being members of both, they should be included more in community development processes. Equity among gender roles is crucial for ending poverty and adapting to climate change! Youth are also a critical group to empower for overcoming and breaking the cycle of poverty and building sustainable resilience to climate change. Youth are quick to learn and can become leaders in initializing actions to fight climate change and poverty and to educate others.
Ending poverty and adapting to climate change includes many challenges and will require complex solutions and sustainable use of available resources. Integrated responses from all levels matter: from community development at the local level to national and international policies and actions. Regardless of the field of work, it is collaboration and integrated action that matter when making sustainable advances to end poverty and combat climate change.