Climate change can erode work on poverty reduction – Report

Climate change will reverse years of work reducing poverty in the developing world without strong, urgent action, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Future Climate for Development calls on governments and NGOs to build climate change into their economic development programmes to help low-income countries manage its impacts and seize new opportunities as the world shifts to a low-carbon economy.

The report, produced by independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future with support from the Department for International Development (DFID), explores how climate change will transform low-income countries over the next 20 years, causing profound social, economic and political transformations as well as major environmental impacts.

Stephen O’Brien, International Development Minister, said: “Without urgent action, climate change threatens to undo years of work tackling poverty in the developing world.

“That is why the UK is now working across the globe to help the world’s poorest people prepare for the potentially devastating effects of climate change and shift to the clean technologies that are so vital to a stable, successful future for us all.

“This report will act as an important tool to help poor countries plan for an uncertain future, and underlines our need to build climate change into everything we do,” he added.

For his part, Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, said: “Climate change and development should be seen as complementary, not competing, issues. By putting climate change at the forefront of development thinking we will not only help the world’s poorest to avoid serious risks, but we can also help them seize new opportunities to create better lives for themselves. Development aid should be much more climate resilient.”

The Future Climate for Development calls for low-income countries and all those who work in development to look for “win-win” opportunities which address climate change and tackle development goals like reducing poverty and improving health and education.

For example:
• investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency can enhance energy security;

• promoting low-carbon transport means less congestion and pollution and improves health;

• low-input agriculture, which does not rely on fertilisers to maintain soil quality, boosts food security and helps countries adapt to a changing climate.

It argues that aid must not be blind to climate change, ignoring measures to help countries adapt to its impacts and promoting high-carbon development. Climate change will transform countries and reshape the global economic and political landscape, it says, and this must be factored into development decisions to ensure they continue to yield benefits in the long-term.

The report is designed to be a practical tool to help governments, NGOs, businesses and policy makers in developed and developing countries “future-proof” their strategies and plan for a range of possible outcomes. It examines key issues which will affect low-income countries over the next 20 years and explores how these may play out in four plausible scenarios for the world of 2030.

The scenarios highlight the need to be prepared for radical changes, and they throw up some challenging possibilities, for example:

• shortages of food and natural resources and climate change impacts may lead many low-income countries to question the Western model of democracy;

• once unthinkable population control measures may be introduced as a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

• conflicts over water and scarce resources may escalate and come to dominate international relations.
And it notes that development agencies may need to reappraise their strategies, for example:

• promoting subsistence farming may build more climate resilience than intensive agriculture;

• disaster response may need to become part of long-term development planning;

• GDP may no longer be used as the primary measure of success in all countries.

Four scenarios for low-income countries in 2030

The scenarios, summarised below, are the result of a year-long project studying how climate change may influence the way low-income countries develop over the next 20 years. They present a vivid, detailed picture of four possible futures and draw on the opinions of more than 100 development experts from around the world, including development professionals, government officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs and independent thinkers.

Reversal of Fortunes is a world where many of the low-income countries of the 2010s have rapidly developed – mostly on carbon-intensive pathways – and are now middle-income. But a stronger voice on the world stage is not enough to grant immunity from the impacts of a world urgently decarbonising its economy: these new emerging economies are the least resilient and are suffering the most.

Age of Opportunity is a world in which cultural confidence within low-income countries is high. They play a growing role in the world economy and are spearheading a low-carbon energy revolution, leapfrogging the old high-carbon technologies in pursuit of a prosperous and clean future.

Coping Alone is a world in which low-income countries feel increasingly abandoned by a global community preoccupied with high oil prices, economic stagnation and simmering conflict. Regional blocs now focus on their own concerns, such as food security, resource shortages and adapting to climate change.

The Greater Good
is a world where people understand that economies rely fundamentally on access to natural resources – and climate change is seen as the ultimate resource crunch. States manage natural resources pragmatically to give the greatest good for the greatest number. Those low-income countries with natural resources prosper; those without have little bargaining power.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

1 Comment
  1. Remy Olson says

    This article presents an interesting analysis of the potential consequences of global warming. The four scenarios laid out are especially helpful in understanding the effects of climate change on developing economies.
    As we attempt to confront climate change without diverting focus away from aiding developing economies, microfinance emerges as an essential tool tying both efforts together. Similarly to the initiatives proposed in your article, Climate Change and Microfinance, published in November 2009 by Asif Dowla, lays out the consequences of global warming for the poor and presents several strategies that microfinance institutions may implement in an effort to adapt their services to a changing world. Through offerings such as weather related insurance products, flexible loan repayment schedules, and disaster plans, microfinance institutions can maximize their sustainability while helping the world’s poorest to move out of poverty. Climate change presents a heretofore unseen challenge. By adapting quickly and strengthening their client relationships, microfinance institutions may prove to be one of the primary on the ground sources of aid to the poor.


    Remy Olson
    Grameen Foundation

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