According to reports by the World Bank, climate change could send 100 million more people into poverty by 2030. Although climate change impacts people regardless of their socioeconomic status, people living in poverty are hit the hardest. Here are five ways climate change impacts the poor.
- Natural resources. The World Wildlife Fund estimated in 2014 that over-exploitation of natural resources created a global decline of 60 percent of many vital natural resources, such as arable land, fish, water and wood. Marine and forest ecosystems, which provide jobs, food and resources for some of the world’s poorest people, are expected to experience significant losses as a result of pollution and over-exploitation of resources like fish and wood.
- Water. Already a key topic of discussion surrounding global poverty, water scarcity and pollution is expected to increase as a result of climate change. UNICEF estimates that around 175 million children each year over the next 10 years will be affected by water extremes caused by climate change. Accessibility to clean water is tied to health, sanitation and food security, especially for people living in developing countries. All of these are expected to worsen as a result of climate change.
- Food. Food prices are expected to rise by 17 percent on a world scale by the year 2080, with the greatest impacts in poor regions. A 77 percent increase in food prices is expected in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to only a three percent increase in Europe and Central Asia. Rising food prices hit people living in poverty the hardest. Poor households spend nearly 60 percent of income on food, compared to wealthy households which can spend less than 10 percent. Food scarcity issues caused by climate change are projected to create a 20 percent increase in the risk of hunger and malnutrition across the world by 2050.
- Health. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change will account for 250,000 deaths per year by malnutrition, malaria, heat stress and diarrhea between 2030 and 2050. This will generate $2-4 billion in climate change related costs each year by 2030. Globally, 20 percent of health care costs are paid out of pocket, but this number grows to 47 percent in low-income countries and to 55 percent in lower middle-income countries. This means that climate change increases health risks of those living in poverty and decreases the ability to recover from them.
- Natural disasters. An overall increase in natural disaster frequency can be expected as a result of climate change. The World Food Program estimates that 90 percent of all natural disasters are droughts, floods and storms. All of these calamities will increase in frequency, along with other out-of-the-ordinary disasters. Natural disasters hit poor people the hardest, as they live more exposed to the elements and experience greater losses as a result of such disasters.
The most important fact about how climate change impacts the poor may be the preventability of these issues. Tools such as heat-resistant crops, improved warning systems for disasters, emissions reductions plans, international aid, carbon pricing and universal health coverage are only a few of the many ways to fight climate change. With policies such as the Paris Climate Agreement and what the World Bank calls “rapid, inclusive, climate-smart development,” informed decisions about climate change today can decrease sources of poverty in the near future.
– Cleo Krejci