The interdependencies between Climate Change and Poverty in developing countries

Written by Shadrack Sylivester,

Climate change and poverty are among of the major global challenges victimizing development efforts of many countries across the global. These challenges act like the twinning partners that are affecting each other as their reaction effects proceed in either side to the extent of creating a chaotic future if will not be addressed with integrated approach on time.

Many poor communities in developing world are predominantly and disproportionately exposed to calamities and to the effects of climate change due to the inability to adapt and to cope with extreme weather events as a result of low technology, economic capitals, social safety nets and infrastructure (IPCC 1995). Recalling the United Nations Development Programme, it is estimated that, 99% of the people are suffering from losses attributable to climate change in low-income communities around the world particularly in Africa.
The majority of poor communities in developing countries are affected by the lack of potential resources that would enable them to fight the climate change challenges in a win-win situation, notably because they are not prepared in terms of disaster response systems, early warning systems, coastal protection, victim relief and recovery insurance (GEF 2001). Moreover, many communities in developing countries are badly challenged by the huge environmental problems caused by climate change. Regarding that, many poor people are exposed to a pressure from resources depletion, rapid urbanization and population growth. This in turn, makes them the most vulnerable to the great challenges posed by climate change. (IPCC, 2001; Jepma, et al. 1996).

CAN Tanzania enumerator talking with Climate Change vulnerable household head in Lushoto, Tanga, Tanzania.

The extreme poverty and low level of livelihood capital often limit capacity of the majority poor communities to manage climate risks. With poor assets, low earnings and limited access to formal protection, poor households find themselves in a position of coping with climate-related shocks under highly embarrassed environments. According to the world bank, climate change is likely to affect the land use activities for instance to reduce agricultural productivity, especially in tropical regions. This imposes a high pressure on natural resources extraction which in turn tends to increase the burden of climate and at the same time fails to reduce the problems at hand because of the unfriendly activities such as deforestation that increase the carbon footprint. It is therefore convinced that, the poor communities are mostly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors and natural resources for their survival. Either way, climate change poses an extreme threat on livelihood, food security, and health of the poor particularly the vulnerable marginalized communities who are additionally affected by gender discrimination (women in particularly).

Climate change limits developmental initiatives and hence exacerbates poverty as it affects the efforts on delivering of social services, it limits opportunities for women, and depletes environmental sustainability at the local, national and international level (UN 2005). On the other hand, human development endures at the cost of the environment, damaging ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and driving climate change. While these environmental problems disturb people and development equilibrium all over the world, the poor are sensitively touched by the local consequences of environmental damage. This consequently championing climate change in a reversed reaction as far as estimation of 2.4 billion people depend on biomass for cooking, while 1.6 billion individuals globally are leaving without electrical energy. Therefore, this unwillingly turns into the joint relation between energy access and poverty reduction, which is called energy poverty (UN 2005). Social services such as cooking, lighting, heating, and transportation foster socio-economic development by generating income and providing employment opportunities (UN 2005).

The two inseparable challenges must be tackled together
Regarding this moment of uncertainty and controversy, the poor communities are called to join their efforts to combat climate change whilst alleviating poverty using integrated strategies. Having focused on resource-efficient economic activities yet does not effectively solve the underlying problem of how to decouple economic growth and depletion of environmental boundary simultaneously. In the case, therefore the simultaneous decoupling, depletion of environmental boundary decreases for example a fall in greenhouse gas emissions despite economic growth. This is the green way to achieve an absolute or simultaneous decoupling in environmental impact per unit of economic output. Eventually, the ideal scenario would be to integrate the initiatives of tackling the compatible challenges in question.

The reality reveals that most policies in developing countries particularly the poor vulnerable communities from Africa focus exclusively either on reducing poverty or protecting the environment. That is to say, without reforming the unharmonized policies in fighting climate change and poverty alleviation the possibility of achieving the targeted goal is negligible.

Therefore, I call upon all stakeholders from developed and developing world to join hands on advocating for policy changes to focus the integration of compatible challenges with reflection on mitigation and adaptation initiatives. These interventions will help to draw the connection between initiatives in question and poverty reduction to enable the development agenda for pro-poor adaptation that can fuel the movement of climate-resilient poverty reduction. Nevertheless, income poverty can be reduced through inclusive economic growth initiatives (helping the poor from the beginning) or green economic growth that helps the poor symbiotically through redistribution. Initiatives for combating 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.

Either way, green economic growth is essentially needed, growth that has yet to be achieved without further depleting planetary boundaries particularly natural resources, where the economy grows geometrically while the environment suffers by growing arithmetically. At the same time, environmental protection measures can have extremely positive effects for the poor driven by development policies that reflects climate change related issues. However, environmental protection can have a negative impact on poor people if they are required to help bear the costs of an environmental protection initiative yet are excluded from sharing its benefits. Noting with grave concern what Marianne Fay said, “Climate change represents a direct and immediate threat to poverty alleviation. It’s important that we bring the climate and poverty communities together to design interventions that are effective for both.”

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