There could be more than 100 million additional people living in extreme poverty by 2030 if the international community does not undertake rapid, inclusive and climate-smart development, a World Bank Group report warned Sunday. The report, “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty,” said climate-related hazards such as floods, droughts and heat waves can erase decades of hard work, leading to irreversible health consequences and driving people back into poverty, particularly in Africa and South Asia, the world’s poorest regions.
The ominous findings come ahead of the much-anticipated United Nations climate change conference, or COP21, in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11, where world leaders will discuss an ambitious framework to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stabilize global temperatures. Their goal of keeping climate change below a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature above preindustrial levels, the report said, will require deep structural changes in the world economy, and these policies must be designed to protect -- and even benefit -- the poor.
"This report sends a clear message that ending poverty will not be possible unless we take strong action to reduce the threat of climate change on poor people and dramatically reduce harmful emissions," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement. "Climate change hits the poorest the hardest, and our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate."
Looking at household survey data, the report also found that impoverished populations are often more exposed to natural hazards like floods, droughts and heat waves, and they lose much more of their meager wealth when they are hit. Poor people are also more exposed to higher temperatures and live in hotter countries where food production is expected to shrink due to climate change.
Government officials at the 12-day climate conference in Paris later this month will seek to create a legally binding and global agreement on climate policy. The World Bank report said such policies can do little to change the amount of global warming that will take effect between now and 2030, which means the only option is to reduce vulnerability to the impacts by tackling poverty, low income and inequality. But the international community must act fast, the report noted. There is a window of opportunity for developing countries to build resilience and reduce short-term climate change effects on poverty through development.
“I can’t agree more. That 100 million may even be an underestimate,” said Tom Smith, founding director of the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Our work on climate modeling suggests that global warming might be more severe than often thought.”
A recent United Nations report predicted that global average temperature will rise by 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, despite international efforts to cut emissions and stabilize temperatures. Smith said his research suggests the increase will be more extreme on a regional scale, particularly in parts of Central Africa where temperatures will rise by 7 degrees Celsius. This extraordinary increase will threaten livestock and climate-sensitive crops like plantain and maize, he said, which are vital cash crops and staple foods in many developing countries.
“You’re going to have this snowball effect on crops,” Smith said by telephone. “Plantain is a very important cash crop in Central Africa that’s tightly linked to secondary school education. This is where people get money to send their kids to school. So one can imagine, as plantain is hard-hit, there’s going to be less funding for secondary school education.”
This impact has already become a reality for many people in developing countries. In Ethiopia, for example, a severe drought in recent months has caused 38-year-old Toiba to lose her livestock and crops -- her only source of revenue, which also helped feed her spouse and 14 children. More than 8 million of Ethiopia's 60 million people now depend on food assistance, according to the latest U.N. figures, which increased from 4.6 million in August. It's the worst drought the landlocked East African country has seen in 30 years.
"I have lost 10 goats and seven cows -- this was our family's only income source. We would use the milk and sell the remaining on the market," Toiba told Save the Children charity workers, who are helping her family and others. "Our crops have not grown at all. We used to have sorghum, maize and teff. We would use what we need and sell the excess; it was decent income and it supported our family of 16."
There are concerns, however, that the climate talks will lead to costly environmental policies such as carbon taxes, which make carbon-based fuels more expensive. ExxonMobil warned investors last year that intensifying efforts by governments to limit carbon dioxide emissions could drive up the cost of their products and lengthen project implementation times. The Institute for Energy Research, a conservative nonprofit in Washington, said these policies will hurt poorer nations that already lack access to sufficient and affordable energy, hampering efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
“One of the biggest impediments to reducing poverty is a lack of access to affordable and reliable energy. There are 1.3 billion people worldwide who don't have electricity. For them, a reliable energy system would be life-changing,” said Chris Warren, director of communications Institute for Energy Research. “Policies like the ones that are being proposed by the Obama administration and others ahead of the Paris climate talks will only throw more people into poverty by making energy more expensive. Our leaders should be promoting policies that allow people to better their lives, not ones that perpetuate and worsen the cycle of poverty. ”
The World Bank report said there are ways to make climate policies “pro-poor,” such as introducing a carbon or energy tax and recycling the revenues through a universal cash transfer that would help impoverished people. The international community should also support emissions reduction in low-income countries and start investing in long-term, low-carbon infrastructure development.
“Waiting will only make low-carbon development more expensive over the long term,” the report warned.