World Bank: We must tackle climate change to defeat poverty

Madeleine Cuff

Without rapid, ‘climate-smart' development more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by 2030, says World Bank

Climate change could wipe out "hard-won gains" in international development and push more than 100 million more people into poverty by 2030, unless the world embarks on rapid, climate-smart development programmes.

That is the stark conclusion of the World Bank in its latest report, released today, outlining the risk climate change poses to some of the poorest people in the world.

In the last decade, significant progress has been made to reduce global poverty. In 1991, 36 per cent of the world's population lived in poverty - this figure is now down to 10 per cent. However, the World Bank warns that without emissions reductions policies that protect the poor this progress could be undone.

The report finds the world's poor are among those most at risk from climate-related shocks - vulnerable to food price spikes, outbreaks of disease and extreme weather events. As such shocks increase in intensity and severity, millions of people will have their livelihoods destroyed and find themselves pushed back into poverty, the report predicts.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said ending poverty and tackling climate change must be considered in tandem. "This report sends a clear message that ending poverty will not be possible unless we take strong action to reduce the threat of climate change on poor people and dramatically reduce harmful emissions," he said in a statement.

"Climate change hits the poorest the hardest, and our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate," he added.

The report is the first of its kind to look at the poverty impacts of climate change from a household level, rather than a national economic level. Using data from 92 countries alongside climate modelling, it finds the poorest people in the world are most vulnerable to climate shocks, and lose far more of their wealth when hit. They also lack access to social and economic safety nets that would help them cope with climate disasters.

Agriculture is a key driver of climate change's impact on the poor. In sub-Saharan Africa, where food consumption accounts for more than 60 per cent of spending among the poorest households, climate change is likely to push up food prices by as much as 12 per cent in 2030. Meanwhile, the number of people exposed to drought could increase by 90 per cent by 2080.

Countries most at risk should adopt "climate-smart" development models, the World Bank advises. For example, new water and sanitation infrastructure should be equipped to deal with periods of extreme rainfall, while new settlements should be located in areas of relative climate safety. Meanwhile, the rollout of climate-resistant crops and improved flood defences for agricultural land could help alleviate the potential impact of climate change on the food system.

The report stresses that for poorer countries, international support will be crucial to achieving this kind of development. Climate finance is set to be a major issue at the upcoming Paris summit, as developing countries seek financial assistance from richer nations to fund their low-carbon development programmes.

In related news, on Friday the Green Climate Fund approved its first batch of climate-related projects, worth $624m. The approved projects include a scheme to improve the climate resilience of wetlands in Peru and a plan to roll out climate-proof infrastructure in Bangladesh. 

Over the next five years the Green Climate Fund aims to generate $1.3bn of investment into climate-related projects around the world. 

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC.

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