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The impact of climate change on the poor

Warren Evans's picture

Poor countries and poor communities world-wide will have a disproportionately difficult time preparing and adapting to climatic change given that most of them are already vulnerable to climatic extremes and other natural hazards.

People tend to think of severe weather (floods, droughts, violent storms, or frosts) when they hear about climate change impacts but the implications of these phenomena are only beginning to be appreciated and understood. Although it may seem almost counterintuitive, but slow, persistent, small changes matter just as much to a poor farmer:

  • seasonal rains shift the timing of his work if it is to be successful;
  • unusual rain patterns can result in more persistent pests; and
  • freshwater fish that gradually disappear due to changing water flows.

Climate change threatens to undo progress towards sustainable development unless remedial measures are taken; see for example: Poverty and Climate Change, part 1 & 2. A ‘ball-park’ estimate of the costs of additional impacts and adaptation amounts to some $40bn to $100bn per year, as outlined in the Investment Framework for Clean Energy and Development.

A crucial component is facilitating the exchange of information and best practice about responses between all partners. Several sources include: the GEF project database; the AIACC for building scientific knowledge and capacity; the “Vulnerability and Adaptation Resource Group” (VARG) an open knowledge network on vulnerability, adaptation and development.

Working together we can address some of these cross cutting challenges of climate change affecting many facets of development:

  • What does climate change mean for ensuring food security in developing countries?
  • How should infrastructure projects be designed in a world where the intensity and frequency of storms is likely to increase?
  • How should we protect biodiversity as the environment responds to climate change?
  • What does glacial melt in the high mountains mean for water resources of populations downstream?

And a challenge to our IFC colleagues:

  • How can the private sector support economic development in an environment that is becoming more risky?


Submitted by Jason A. Hubbart on
In the story dated 15/5/2006, you are quoted as stating, "industrial nations in the G8 should do more to help developing nations", referring to adaptive strategies for climate change. What are your recommendations as to how the G8 countries, and/or individuals should become involved, and what measures of involvment do you view as most effective? Kind regards, Jason Hubbart University of Idaho, Moscow

Submitted by Warren Evans on
Thanks for the comment Jason. G-8 nations can become more involved in many ways, including, helping developing countries increase their capacity to understand the implications of impacts such as sea level rise, extended droughts, severe shifts in rainfall patterns, etc. The can do so by helping in providing technical assistance and knowledge transfer. They can then help in translating that understanding into responses, and whenever justified, help finance the additional costs involved.

Submitted by Jason Hubbart on
Thank you for your response. What are your recommendations to those individuals who wish to become more involved to help developing countries understand the implications of environmental/hydrological impacts you have mentioned? How does someone make the connections to begin to provide the "techcnical assistance and knowledge transfer" that you speak of? Seems like there are a lot of good ideas floating around. What are the means to the ends, especially when those that see the need the most clearly may not be as efluent as those with other agendas.

Submitted by Dr. Richard on
The best way to help developing nations is to help them develop their abundant natural resources...oil, natural gas, hydroelecticity, wood products, etc. Global climate change is far from being a certainty, at least on the perceived upward swing in could very well shift to the the downward tomorrow, next week...who knows? And to think that it is anthropogenic is fairly arrogant on our part.... In short, Algore needs to get a real job and leave science to real scientists! Dr. Rochelle Richard, PhD

Submitted by Dr. William Searcy on
Jason: You must mean "affluent" not "efluent" (sic)...but then again, the poor do seem to live in effluent..:-) The doomsayers such as Mr. Gore are on quite a money-making ride...I guess Mr. Gore needs the cash and to try to prop up his ego since losing in 2000. The studies in global climate change are in their infancy...far too early to call for measures which will stunt the economic growth of other nations...especially in light of the fact that Greenland was once inhabitable during the Middle Ages...what caused warming then??? Many things contribute to global climate cahnge...sun activity, elliptical orbit variations, volcanoes and other get my drift. I have to agree with Dr. Richard...Gore needs a real job...and sell of some of those 20,000 sq.ft. mansions,'s hard to take you seriously!

If Dr Searcy were correct, then these many things changing the climate would be changing it all the time, in truth it's pretty stable. Just a 0.5C increase in global mean in the last century! Of course it changed far more that that where I was today; clearly there's a difference between weather and climate :-) On a more useful note. The living in effluent point is well made. Many of the poorest in the world are subsistence farmers, and even if they are battling with climate change they won't notice it - because for most it will be existing climate variability that will set them back more; when the next flood or drought hits. Climate does matter for most of the world's poor, because unlike many in the developed world they spend much of their lives outdoors, trying to turn whatever the weather brings into a a livelihood. If Dr Searcy really was living in the random climate he imagines, with the random weather it would bring, then I doubt there would be much of a human population at all, rich or poor. As for how Jason might get more involved, it really depends what talents and resources he has available. There are folks working on such things - honest.

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