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Climate change and poverty: why action is needed

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Climate change poverty

A set of Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed next year offer a vital opportunity for the international community to tackle the way that climate change is driving people into poverty, says a new report.

‘The Right Climate for Development: why the SDGs must act on climate change’ released ahead of the twin UN meetings for Heads of State in New York – the UN Climate Summit on 23 September and the opening of the General Assembly debate on post-2015 development on 24 September 2014.

The work is in response to the latest findings of the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that has warned climate change is a massive threat to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

“Fact is the solution to extreme poverty, climate change and environmental degradation requires an integrated response if we are to get lasting change. Often we find climate change is a common cause but it is how this manifests itself which is key: changes in climate play out through natural resources – the underlying environment that particularly people in poverty most directly depend on” said David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK to representatives of the public, private and NGO sector at the launch of the report in London on 10 September 2014.

The new report, written by Christian Aid, WWF-UK, Greenpeace, Oxfam GB, CAFOD, Practical Action and CARE International, says it is now clearer than ever that without action to tackle climate change, efforts to eradicate poverty will be fruitless.

The greater plight for poor and vulnerable people caused by climate change can be already seen now. They are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, suffering the loss of their homes, jobs and crops, along with ill-health from the spread of disease exacerbated by climate change.

The report says rising sea levels and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as typhoons and floods – all the result of global warming – are claiming lives, destroying or damaging homes and infrastructure, reducing crop yields, and ruining employment prospects.

These impacts will only increase, it warns, if action is not taken to cut carbon emissions and support is not given to communities to adapt to the changes that they are already experiencing.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed to the Millennium Development Goals that expire at the end of 2015, must therefore include a standalone goal on tackling climate change. And they must also commit governments to robust action to support emission cuts and build the resilience of communities affected by climate change.

For developing countries which must not be deprived of the opportunity of progress, the SDGs need to signpost how progress can be achieved without adding carbon emissions. They must be a blue print for low carbon development the world over, encompassing all sectors affected by climate change, including health, agriculture urban development, energy, water access and income generation.

Specifically, the report says, the goals should:

  • Include a standalone goal on climate that will encourage all countries to follow a low carbon development pathway.
  • Take on board that most of the new infrastructure for low or zero-carbon development will need to be built or start development during the SDGs timeframe of up to 2030.
  • Recognise the many benefits increased access to sustainable, affordable, reliable and safe energy will bring to poverty reduction, education, health, women’s empowerment and sustainable livelihoods.
  • A goal already proposed on growth and employment goal should recognise the benefits that low carbon development, particularly investment in renewable energy production and energy efficiency, can have in creating decent employment.
  • And a proposed goal to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’ needs to address expressly the role that unsustainable consumption and production in richer societies plays in driving climate change.
  • Acknowledge the fact that to decarbonise electricity by up to 100 per cent by 2050, is crucial if temperature rises are to be kept below 2 degrees Celsius.

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