Sunday, September 20, 2009

Climate Change Enhances Global Poverty And Inequity

Global climate change has emerged as the greatest treat facing humankind today. Climate change affects almost all ecosystems, society and economy. But the effects are different depending on their location, economic status, history of development and governance patterns.

Climate change will not only increase global poverty and human insecurities, but also enhance regional disparity as well intra and intergenerational inequity if urgent actions are not taken now by the global communities. The following stories give important glimpse about - how climate change will increase inequity and poverty.
Story 1: The Traveling Mother
A woman in El-Salvador in Latin America was traveling to join her husband who had been posted on an international NGO job in Dakar, Senegal in Africa. She was in her advanced stage of pregnancy. A few hours into the flight, the plane faces turbulence and had to land in an airport in Florida, USA. Because of the turbulence and nervousness she gave birth to a premature baby in the USl. This baby could have been born a few hours earlier in El-Salvador or the next day in Dakar, Senegal. This is purely a chance of circumstances. We can model the future consumption history of this child depending on where she was born. The fact that the child was born in the US she would consume ten times more petroleum, would travel many times more by cars and airlines, would consume meat many times more and also use and waste water by a huge margin. In the process of evolution in the mother’s womb, each child, irrespective of place of origin, has similar nutritional allocation. But it is the society where she is born that very often decides the consumption patterns. In the final analysis it is the consumption pattern and utilization of resources that created the GHGs resulting in Climate Change. 
Story 2: The Migrating People
On 21 February, 2007 Henry Chu, Staff Writer of the Los Angeles Times reports “Climate Change laps at Bangladesh’s shores rising oceans are already a reality there, and thousands of people could be displaced. Global warming has a taste in this village. It is the taste of salt. Only a few years ago, water from the local pond was fresh and sweet on Samit Biswas’s tongue...for one meter sea level rise, there will be 35 million people displaced by middle to end of 21st century. One Mr. Borhan, the leader of a small coastal community in Bangladesh said that “Anybody in my island hardly uses any petrol, gas or coal. We never get on a car or plane. Why should I or my children drown because somebody else wants to have a good life? Where is the justice in this?”
The enormous, forceful and devastating cyclone Sidr that hit the coast of Bangladesh in November 2007, had not only killed over 10,000 people but also devastated the lives and livelihoods of over 30 million people. The next devastating cyclone Nargis generated in the Bay of Bengal had spared Bangladesh but had severely hit Myanmar coast on 4 May 2008 killing more than one hundred thousands of people and injured millions. Most recently, cyclone Aila hit the coasts of Bangladesh and India on 25 April 2009 killing over 300 people. Many people of coastal districts were made homeless for weeks and were suffering from serious food and water insecurity. Thousands of them would be thrown into poverty. The poor in the developing countries are the worst affected by those climate extremes, they are in the forefront of climatic disasters and have least capacity to cope with the risks. 
Poverty situation may further deteriorate in Asia and Africa due to climate change impacts. The number of poor has increased in Bangladesh sharply in the last 2-3 years from 38% to 48% due to climatic disasters as well as economic and social crisis. Currently, over 860 million people are suffering from severe food insecurity and chronic malnourishment in the world. About 95% of them are in developing countries. Inequitable access to food is the major factor behind this, but global warming and climatic events are also contributing to food insecurity.

Key challenges and urgent actions

Climate change is a result of unequal development and consumption and it is enhancing inequity across the world. The impacts are also unequally distributed, where poor in developing countries are becoming the worst victims. Mitigating climate change, eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth as well as political stability all demand the same solutions. We must reduce GHG emission urgently and immediately to save the planet and human civilization. The key challenges for all of us are:
  • to stop climate change through urgent mitigation measures now and create effective framework for post 2012 commitment with greater participation of both developed and developing countries to halt dangerous climate change;
  • to explore how to live in a warmer climate which is now unavoidable; and
  • to promote low carbon sustainable economic development and modify the life style of the rich who do the most harm through luxuries and over consumption.
A deeper cut of carbon emission is urgently needed. The vulnerable communities also require resources, institutional capacity and appropriate technologies for advancing adaptation to climate change. Fighting climate change and poverty requires multiple, but combined and accelerated efforts by the governments, business and private sector, development agencies, relevant actors and vulnerable communities. A fairer and more equitable world will be a more secured world too. All efforts of climate change must take the dimension of equity, fairness and justice into consideration in decision making. Though there are discussions in equity and fairness in Mitigation, i.e. GHG emission, there is hardly any discussion yet in equity and justice in adaptation. The future discourse must take this adaptation into consideration. Any adaptation related funds should be considered as a compensation rather that an endowment. Similarly, a displaced population should have the right to choose where they want to find their new homes as a matter of right and not a favor by the GHG emitters who has caused the problem in the first place.

Dr. Atiq Rahman is Executive Director of BCAS, Dhaka and the Winner of the UN Environmental Award- the Champion of the Earth 2008

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