“Climate change is rapidly becoming the greatest threat to poverty eradication” according to a new report. It’s from a coalition of NGOs that includes environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace, alongside those better known for their campaigning on poverty, such as Practical Action, Christian Aid and Oxfam.
The UN is in the process of negotiating a new set of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals. But the report warns that without robust action on climate change, the rest of the goals could well be unachievable. One of the most immediate risks is extreme weather, which damages crops, pushing up food prices and increasing the number of people going hungry. That could scupper any development goals around hunger, food security and nutrition. Malnutrition then undermines goals on health and wellbeing. A changing climate would also affect water security and any deterioration in access to the basics of food and water would push inequality goals out of reach too.
It isn’t just a problem for subsistence farmers either. Extreme weather can wreak havoc on poorer urban communities, disrupting fragile water and sanitation systems. People could lose their homes or businesses, with no insurance or social safety net to get them back on their feet.
In all these situations, climate change works as a ‘threat multiplier’. Where people are already vulnerable, climate change makes it more likely that disaster will strike. This new climate reality makes adaptation a key development priority. It also highlights the importance of win-win development strategies. Renewable energy is one of them, as electricity brings major benefits to people while reducing emissions and pollution from dirtier traditional fuels.
The matter of climate justice is also unavoidable here. “The push for economic growth without recognising planetary limits and social impacts is a key underlying cause of rising emissions” the report recognises. As I wrote about last week, ongoing economic growth in rich countries is a non-negotiable by those in power. But if growth in rich countries undermines growth in poor countries, where it is much more urgently needed, then we have a massive injustice on our hands.