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World Bank warns of climate shock-waves

13 November 2015


Murky: St Sophia Cathedral (now a museum), in Harbin City, China, in thick smog last month. The local meteorological department reported high pollution levels

Murky: St Sophia Cathedral (now a museum), in Harbin City, China, in thick smog last month. The local meteorological department reported high pollutio...

CLIMATE change could force 100 million more people into extreme poverty by 2030, the World Bank has warned, in a new report released before this month’s UN climate talks in Paris.

The report, Shock Waves: Managing the impacts of climate change on poverty, warns that the only possible option in the next 15 years is to try to reduce the vulnerability of those most at risk from global warming, as even tough new emissions policies introduced immediately would do little to alter the short-term effects on the world’s poorest.

It calls for international action to introduce programmes to try to prevent millions slipping back into poverty and so undoing decades of work and investment.

“Our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate,” the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, said in a statement.

The report, based on surveys of households in 92 countries, says that the areas worst affected by the effects of climate change in the next 15 years will be sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia.

Targeted action to help people cope with climate “shocks” — including flooding, drought, and temperature rises — needs to be undertaken now, such as introducing heat-resistant crops, flood-protection measures, and early-warning systems. Introducing energy taxes and redistributing the money raised to the poor would be another way of helping the poor build resilience, the report says.

“Combining rapid, inclusive, and climate-informed development with targeted intervention would largely reduce the short-term threat from climate change.”

Examples of good development include the Hunger Safety Net Programme, in Kenya, which prevented an increase in poverty after the 2011 drought.

Climatic changes have a dramatic impact on crops and agriculture, on which poorer countries are more dependent for food and job security, as well as exports. By 2030, the report suggests, food prices could be 12 per cent higher in sub-Saharan Africa because of price spikes caused by harvests damaged by climate change.

Such a change would put a huge strain on poor households, some of whom spend as much as 60 per cent of their income on food.

Changes to climate also have an impact on health, with a two- to three-per-cent rise in temperature increasing the number of people at risk of malaria by five per cent. Other illnesses, such as diarrhoea, would also be more prevalent, causing an estimated 48,000 additional deaths among children under the age of 15.

The study looks at different scenarios up to 2030, and finds that, without good development measures, more than 100 million additional people would be living in poverty. In India, an additional 45 million people could be pushed back over the poverty line by 2030, primarily because of agricultural shocks and increased disease.

In 2015, the report estimates, 702 million people are in poverty.

Stéphane Hallegatte, a senior economist at the World Bank, who led the team that prepared the report, said: “The report demonstrates that ending poverty and fighting climate change cannot be done in isolation — the two will be much more easily achieved if they are addressed together.

“And, between now and 2030, good, climate-informed development gives us the best chance we have of warding off increases in poverty due to climate change.”

Christian Aid’s senior climate adviser, Mohamed Adow, said: “It is good to see the World Bank underlining the clear connection between climate change and how it fuels poverty. That is why so many organisations that fight poverty are concerned about climate change.

“The poor are the least able to respond to the impacts of climate change. Already living on the brink, they not only can least afford to lose their homes and livelihoods: they also often lack the mobility to move away from climate threats, leaving them trapped.”

Mr Adow said, however, that the World Bank also needed to get its own house in order and stop funding fossil-fuel projects, which were contributing to the problem.

The Paris climate summit will be attended by 80 global leaders besides thousands of activists. Leaders have the task of reaching a binding agreement to reduce emissions by limiting the rise in global average temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

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