Climate impacts threaten to expand poverty worldwide

By Lisa Friedman | 11/09/2015 09:05 AM EST

Without policies to protect the world’s most vulnerable from crop failure, natural disasters, waterborne diseases and other impacts of climate change, 100 million more people could sink into poverty by 2030, the World Bank said.

The report unveiled yesterday is one of a growing number of high-level studies linking poverty to climate change. This one, World Bank officials said, goes further by combining findings from household surveys in 90 nations with modeling results on the impact of rising global temperatures on food prices, heat waves, floods, droughts and diseases.

"Climate change is an additional threat to our objective of ending poverty," said Stéphane Hallegatte, a senior economist with the World Bank’s Climate Change Group and co-author of the report.


"Poor people are already very vulnerable to climate-related shocks, and these climate-related shocks already keep them in poverty," he said. "Climate change will make a lot of these shocks more frequent and more intense, and this creates a threat. But the good news is that between now and 2030, good development … can prevent most of the impacts."

The study, "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty," comes ahead of landmark U.N. negotiations in Paris. As leaders there try to develop a new international climate change accord, money for poor countries trying to adapt to the impacts of climate change will be a major sticking point between rich and poor nations.

Wealthy nations have vowed to mobilize $100 billion in public and private money by 2020, and developing countries want language in a new agreement that states funding will be "scaled up from a floor of $100 billion from 2020."

John Roome, the World Bank’s senior director for climate change, said he believes countries do have a "credible path" to the $100 billion goal and noted that the World Bank and other multilateral development banks have pledged to boost climate financing by 2020, as well. Meanwhile, he said, policies to ratchet down poverty while putting climate change threats in sight — from access to universal health care to early warning systems — need to take priority.

"The best way forward is to tackle poverty alleviation and climate change in integrated strategies," he said.

More money needed for adaptation

The report points to agriculture as the key driver of climate change’s influence on poverty, with scientific studies suggesting that rising temperatures could lead to 5 percent of crop yields failing by 2030. In Africa, that level could be as high as 12 percent, "not good news in a region where food consumption of the poorest households amounts to over 60 percent of total spending," the report notes.

Meanwhile, diseases, which are the next-strongest drivers of the links between climate change and poverty, also loom large. The report notes that warming between 2 to 3 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels would put 150 million more people at risk of contracting malaria alone. In India, 45 million more people could be pushed into poverty by 2030 by a combination of agricultural shocks and disease.

Currently, according to the World Bank, about 702 million people, or 9.6 percent of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty.

Heather Coleman, climate change manager for Oxfam America, said the report highlights what many groups have been warning for years: that climate change hurts the poorest "first and worst," while exacerbating inequality. She called on the World Bank to take immediate steps based on its own research to change its priorities.

"It is crucial that the bank’s lending policies, including those of the bank’s private-sector arm, react to their own warnings by mainstreaming climate resilience programs and support equitable, low-carbon development," she said.

As for Paris, Coleman noted, "Any climate deal must commit countries to making their greenhouse gas cuts more aggressive every five years. It must also help vulnerable countries continue to adapt to climate change after 2020 by building on the $100 billion already promised, and dramatically increase public funding for those efforts."