For years we have all heard that climate change threatens the sustainable future of our environment. After studying the changes and effects of the climate on the biosphere, 97 percent of climatologists agree that these climate-warming trends will only continue, especially since human activities are the most likely cause of these trends, according to NASA. Reducing these trends will not only provide a safer and healthier environment for future generations, but it will also help those living in extreme poverty.
Especially in developing countries, the poor rely heavily on their environment. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the use of forest resources contributes to the livelihood of almost 1.6 billion people globally. Forests provide essential resources such as food, fuel, medicine and even income, showing that these billions of people and the environment in which they live share an interdependent relationship with one another.
With the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the rise, the livelihoods and habitats of these people could soon disappear completely. It is for this reason that USAID announced the plan to give 45 million Kenyan shillings to a global climate change initiative, which will address a variety of environmental concerns, such as the loss of biodiversity, deforestation and other vulnerabilities to climate change.
With this initiative and other programs already in place, researchers are hopeful that poverty might also decrease along with the effects of climate change. Purdue University researchers announced on May 29 that global malnutrition — one of the key causes of poverty — could decrease by 84 percent by 2050. This would be a huge decrease, since the U.N. currently estimates that approximately 870 million people suffer from malnourishment globally.
However, this percentage decrease relies heavily on the improvements to be made in agricultural productivity and if climate change does not damage that productivity. Although researchers at Purdue University agree that an increase in temperatures and carbon dioxide could benefit agricultural productivity for some time by lengthening the season and improving water proficiency, they also agree that these possible benefits would only be temporary.
All this shows that climate change could have a direct impact on not only nutrition levels, but also the environments of the poor in developing countries. Since these issues are so closely connected, U.N. advisor Professor Jeffrey Sachs warned the New Environmentalism Summit that “We have to tackle climate change if we are to have any hope of tackling poverty.” Sachs also stressed the idea that climate change is not a problem for future generations, but a problem that we must address in today’s society.
Global leaders are experimenting with ways to address this issue, and many, like Sachs, hope that climate change will be a central element in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, which will expand on the current Millennium Development Goals, to continue global progress in a variety of health and societal issues after 2015. Regardless of disagreements over how to best resolve this problem, climate trends must be addressed in some way to not only help the poor, but also the planet.
— Meghan Orner