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We discuss this point at length in a paper I just published (together with Paul Bennett Siegel and Steen Lau Jorgensen) in the journal Global Environmental Change. Our article examines the links between climate risks, adaptation, and vulnerability of people and is available for free download on the SSRN website (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1158177)
Our paper argues that some of the responses to climate change will come from unexpected quarters. Social policy and social protection, for example, have been largely absent from climate discussions yet could well turn out to be vital to protect the poor from the consequences of climate change. Social policies can create synergies between climate action and poverty alleviation. What is good for adaptation and what helps fight poverty sometimes overlaps and social policy and social protection lay at the heart of this overlap.
A staggering burden of poverty and vulnerability stem from climate risks—even before factoring in climate change. While it is true that all societies, at all times, have managed climatic risks in some way we still don’t seem to have learned to do it well. In many places, management of climate fluctuations continues to be costly, inadequate, and ineffective.
A few months of drought can cause a lifetime of poverty. In Zimbabwe, children that were less than two years old when a severe drought hit were significantly more stunted and later in life did worse in school and even had inferior health and earnings as adults. Hurricane Mitch in Honduras exacerbated asset inequalities when the poor lost a greater share of assets in the disaster and recovered at a slower rate than the non-poor. For Ethiopia’s poor, recovering their livestock after droughts can be nearly impossible.
I don’t think we should pretend there is a blueprint or a simple action plan for moving forward. Instead, I suggest we begin thinking about how climate change and climate vulnerability impact on the way in which poor people manage risk and maintain their livelihoods. Then, adaptation can be designed to reduce vulnerability of people and defend opportunities for growth and sustainable development.
Dear readers, I look forward to your reactions.