The impact of climate change on the poor

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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?


Warren Evans

Senior Adviser (retired)

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