Climate: Changes, Challenges, and Consequences

Sun, 07/01/2007

The links between climate change, hunger and poverty will be the focus of the 2007 World Food Day teleconference. The overwhelming majority of the world's climate scientists are convinced that the looming crisis is caused primarily by humankind's activities and will require immediate and farsighted action by all nations, rich and poor. POVERTY AND CLIMATE CHANGE Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation Despite international efforts, poverty has become more widespread in many countries in the last decade, making poverty reduction the core challenge for development in the 21st century. In the Millennium Declaration, 189 nations have resolved to halve extreme poverty by 2015. However, climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts. This article focuses on the impacts of climate change on poverty reduction efforts in the context of sustaining progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond. It discusses ways of mainstreaming and integrating adaptation to climate change into poverty reduction and sustainable development efforts. Climate change is happening and will increasingly affect the poor. Adaptation is necessary and there is a need to integrate responses to climate change and adaptation measures into strategies for poverty reduction to ensure sustainable development. “Hunger is exclusion. Exclusion from land, income, jobs, wages, life and citizenship. When a person gets to the point of not having anything left to eat, it is because all the rest has been denied. This is a modern form of exile. It is death in life.” Josue de Castro (1908-1973) This decision to focus on adaptation is deliberate and is taken with the understanding that adaptation cannot replace mitigation efforts. The magnitude and rate of climate change will strongly depend on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere. The higher the concentrations of GHGs, the higher the likelihood of irreversible and grave damage to human and biological systems. Therefore, adaptation is only one part of the solution. Mitigation of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is the indispensable other part. Today it is widely agreed by the scientific community that climate change is already a reality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that human activities are altering our climate system and will continue to do so. Over the past century surface temperatures have increased and associated impacts on physical and biological systems are increasingly being observed. Science tells us that climate change will bring about gradual changes, such as sea level rise, and shifts of climate zones due to increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns. Also, climate change is very likely to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms. While there is uncertainty in the projections with regard to the exact magnitude, rate, and regional patterns of climate change, its consequences will change the fate of many generations to come and particularly impact on the poor if no appropriate measures are taken. The impacts of climate change, and the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change vary greatly, but generally, climate change is superimposed on existing vulnerabilities. Climate change will further reduce access to drinking water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and will pose a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin American. In some areas where livelihood choices are limited, decreasing crop yields threaten famines, or where loss of landmass in coastal areas is anticipated, migration might be the only solution. The macroeconomic costs of the impacts of climate change are highly uncertain, but very likely have the potential to threaten development in many countries. Therefore, the task ahead is to increase the adaptive capacity of affected poor communities and countries. According to the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, developing countries are expected to suffer the most from the negative impacts of climate change. This is due to the economic importance of climate-sensitive sectors (for example, agriculture and fisheries) for these countries, and to their limited human, institutional, and financial capacity to anticipate and respond to the direct and indirect effects of climate change. In general, the vulnerability is highest for least developed countries in the tropical and sub-tropical areas. Hence, the countries with the fewest resources are likely to bear the greatest burden of climate change in terms of loss of life and relative effect on investment and the economy. Many sectors providing basic livelihood services to the poor in developing countries are not able to cope even with today's climate variability and stresses. Over 96% of disaster-related deaths in recent years have taken place in developing countries. Often extreme weather events set back the development process for decades. With fishing grounds depleting and droughts, floods and storms destroying entire annual harvest in affected areas, the El Nino phenomenon serves as a prime example of how climatic variability already affects vulnerable countries and people today. In many developing countries, climate change already increased stresses from climate variability and extremes and will do so increasingly in the future. Adaptation to climate change is a priority for ensuring the long-term effectiveness of our investment in poverty eradication and sustainable development. Adaptation measures, if pursued in the sustainable development framework, can diminish the damage from future climate change and climate variability. Through the decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) work has been initiated to develop the adaptive capacity of poor people and the poorer countries (Least Developed Countries) to cope with the impacts of climate change. Yet, a stronger focus must be placed on poverty reduction and sustainable development. The development and environment community must ensure that adaptation is not treated as a stand-alone issue, but in the context of poverty reduction and the MDGs. Addressing poverty implies also preparing for climate variability and extremes. While climate change is only one of the many factors influencing poverty immediate action should be taken to adapt to climate change impacts. The best way to address climate change impacts on the poor is by integrating adaptation measures into sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. Only a comprehensive approach which provides options for poor people to reduce their vulnerability to current and future risks will contribute towards achieving the MDGs and ensure that sustainable progress is made beyond 2015. Many adaptation mechanisms will be strengthened by making progress in areas such as good governance, human resources, institutional structures, public finance and natural resource management. Such progress builds the resilience of countries, communities and households to all types of shocks, including climate change impacts. Strategies to cope with current climate variability provide a good starting point for addressing adaptation needs in the context of poverty reduction. Learning from experience will help to prevent the underachievement of sustainable development efforts and avoid mal-adaptation.