Published on Voices

The Human Face of Climate Change

The global community must come together to put people at the center of the climate change agenda. The global community must come together to put people at the center of the climate change agenda.

For Haliya Al-Jalal, a mother of six in Al-Adn, Yemen, walking long distances to collect drinking water was a daily chore she shared with her family. “Fetching water from the stream caused us great hardship,” she said. “Many children dropped out of school to devote themselves to this task every day.” 

A simple rainwater harvesting scheme now alleviates some of that burden. Yet in Yemen, where climate change threatens to make rainfall even scarcer and droughts more common, women like Haliya Al-Jalal and people in countless rural communities remain vulnerable. Children face an uncertain future where dropping out of school may be the tradeoff for survival.

Droughts, severe storms, deadly heat waves. These terrifying scenes caused by the climate crisis have become all too common across the globe.  Hidden behind these extreme weather events, climate change is eroding human capital – the health, knowledge and skills that people need to realize their full potential – hitting the poor and vulnerable hardest.  As Halilya Al-Jalal’s experience makes clear, there is a very human face to climate change. And we must not forget it.

Across all ages, climate is hurting people’s well-being and potential. Extreme heat, for example, increases hospitalization during pregnancy and chronic and acute malnutrition in early childhood. Extreme heat is also directly linked to lower learning outcomes such as test scores, and in 2021 resulted in an estimated global loss of 470 billion work hours among working adults.  

Poor people in particular are exposed to higher risks, as they often live in low-quality housing, have low or no savings, and lack access to support systems such as health care. World Bank analysis shows that climate change has a large and disproportionate impact on poverty and economic opportunities, especially for the most vulnerable members of society. 

But people are not passive victims. It is people who will drive the necessary innovations and adaptations to alleviate the impacts of climate change everywhere.



Investing in human capital—education, nutrition, health, and safety nets in difficult times – is the best way for countries to build resilience to climate shocks, improve people’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, and prevent further erosion of human capital. With focused investments and inclusive policies, a green and just transition is possible.

To build human capital and ensure people have the skills to thrive in a low-carbon economy, the World Bank Group is working with partners to provide support through three key channels:

1. Stronger health systems

Stronger health systems help countries better respond to pollution, extreme weather, and natural disasters. The World Bank’s Climate Health Vulnerability Assessment and Climate and Health and Economic Valuation Tools identify potential climate-related health shocks, outline their costs, and illustrate how countries can strengthen systems to respond to them. 

2. Climate-smart education systems

Climate-smart education systems can help people develop skills for climate mitigation. The right technical and vocational training can also enable them to contribute to the economic transformation as well as cleaner energy consumption. In Nepal and Pakistan, for example, the Bank is supporting several initiatives that educate more girls and women in STEM, preparing them for green jobs.  Through programs such as Energy2Equal in Africa and Powered by Women in Asia Pacific, the IFC, the Bank Group’s private sector arm, is supporting women in green jobs and leadership. Investments in climate-resilient infrastructure are also helping to minimize disruptions that have a major impact on schooling.

3. Well-targeted social protection and livelihood support programs

Well-targeted social protection programs not only help protect people in times of crisis, but they also encourage people to diversify into livelihoods that are less vulnerable to climate change. Across Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, the Bank supports poor households through 157 Climate-Resilient Economic Inclusion programs which go beyond cash benefits, helping to build long term resilience by improving resources management, entrepreneurship skills and  generating green livelihoods and jobs.  In our current food crisis response, assistance to farmers to access inputs for production is combined with sustainable agriculture practices, including in the use of fertilizers.

The global community must come together to put people at the center of the climate change agenda. It will take concerted action at all levels and across sectors to prevent long-term impacts on human capital which can undo decades of human capital gains. Going forward, the transition towards a low-carbon economy will open up new opportunities. This will require healthy people prepared to take on the jobs of the future with the right skills, and contribute to increased productivity and growth.

We must put people at the center of the global response to climate change , so people like Haliya Al-Jalal and her family can benefit from green, resilient and inclusive development.

Key Resources:

World Bank Live Event: The Human Face of Climate Change

Climate and Development Brief: Delivering for People and the Planet: Human Capital, Gender and Climate Change (pdf)



Mari Elka Pangestu

Former World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships

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