In an article by Nicholas Stern and Trevor Manuel on financing the transformation of the world economy to a low-carbon one I found a very important sentence:
The two defining challenges of our time are managing climate change and overcoming world poverty. We cannot succeed on one without succeeding on the other.
The second part of the quotation is which I would like to write some words about. Actually, the causal links are straightforward. But nevertheless, sometimes things that are straightforward must be expressed explicitly to be recognized as such.
The question here is about mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
Should global warming proceed in the way anticipated by scientists and without extra mitigation, poor countries will be hit much more than rich ones. The main reason is that most poor countries are in the tropics or subtropics (the UN identifies 49 Least Developed Countries – all of them are in Africa, South Asia, Oceania or the Caribbean), where the effects of global warming, especially the short to mid term ones, will be most dramatic. Although the temperatures are expected to rise more the nearer to the poles, subtropics and tropics remain very vulnerable because of the relative instability of their ecosystems. A slight change in, e.g., precipitation could cause huge damages. They also are much more exposed to extreme weather events. Furthermore, just because poor countries are already poor, a similar change in wealth/income (in absolute terms) would hit them much more than it is the case for the rich part of the world. Thus, you can’t combat poverty without dealing with climate change (i.e., without trying to mitigate it), because consequences of the latter would deepen poverty heavily.
In the opposite direction the problem lies mainly in the field of adaptation to climate change. It is a sad fact that we are not able to undo every damage already caused by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even if we stopped emissions now, there would be further warming (with all related consequences) because of the “inertia” of the climate system. All we can do through mitigation is to minimize these consequences. And thus we need to adopt to those changes in the natural systems that are sure to come. This will be costly: coastal protection must be built or expanded, agriculture must be redeveloped, water storage systems must be built and so on. Poor countries cannot do it on their own – they just haven’t the resources needed. And their citizens have not the means either, what might be even more important because centralized adaptation only (building dams, e.g.) will not be enough. People must be able to cope with the effects of global warming on the micro-level (e.g., buying more resistant crops, building own water storage, perhaps in some cases moving away from most vulnerable areas). It is therefore straightforward that we cannot successfully combat the consequences of climate change without alleviating poverty at the same time.
As one can see, poverty and climate change are closely interconnected. It is time to see them as one issue – something many politicians seem not to have grasped yet.