climate change poverty

Climate change action for the poor

One of the common arguments against action on climate change is that it is expensive. Both rich and poor countries use that excuse, but when developing countries use it is usually framed along the lines of sustainability as a luxury. Once we reach a certain level of industrialisation, the argument goes, we can start looking at decarbonisation. Until then, cutting emissions is for the rich.

That’s been one of the obstacles to global agreement on climate change, but lowering carbon emissions and raising people out of poverty can go together. I’ve highlighted reports that look at pro-poor climate actions in Britain before. Or there’s the case of Ethiopia, which has ambitious sustainability plans in spite of its low income.

A couple of weeks ago the Center for American Progress released a report adding weight to this argument. “Many actions to fight climate change and prepare for its unavoidable impacts will improve public health, safety, and livelihoods” they say.

The report, Reducing poverty through climate action, has a series of suggestions for climate actions that will also help the poor. That includes both mitigation and adaptation strategies – things that will cut emissions and measures that will help people to live with a changing climate. Here are some of them:

  • Preventing food loss – food waste in the supply chain is a major problem in developing countries. There will be increasing pressure on food and water resources as the climate warms, and a greater risk of natural disasters. Ensuring that food that is grown actually feeds hungry people is a real priority.
  • Community resilience – disaster preparedness would save lives and protect property and community assets. This is increasingly important as the climate changes. Another aspect to this is designing resilient infrastructure , such as roads, railways or power networks, so that vast amounts of money aren’t wasted repairing things after inevitable natural disasters.
  • Universal energy access – clean and reliable energy, especially electricity, is vital to ending poverty and including people in the global economy. This can only be done sustainably if it is done through renewable energy.
  • Protecting forests – the REDD scheme already demonstrates how forests can be preserved while creating a revenue stream for poor communities at the same time. Land rights for forest communities would also protect the land and care for the people.
  • Improving air quality – soot from inefficient cooking stoves is already a health and environmental hazard in many poorer countries. Reducing air pollution would have health benefits as well as environmental ones.

There’s no either/or choice to make between action on climate change or action on poverty. There are many synergies. As the Center for American Progress says, “countries around the world have a tremendous opportunity to design a new global development agenda that can rapidly accelerate progress toward tackling two of the world’s most pressing challenges—ending poverty and preventing catastrophic climate change.”

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