The World Bank estimates that climate change will be responsible for as many as 132 million people being in extreme poverty by 2030. For those who can’t fathom or visualize what this means, let’s look at how the organization defined extreme poverty, as:
“Living on $1.90 per day.”
The report pointed out that it is already well known that climate change will disproportionately affect poorer countries and poorer individuals living in those countries. The organization provided a new assessment of the future impacts of climate change on extreme poverty by 2030, and it’s pretty bleak. The assessment was completed at the household level using a bottom-up approach exploring the compounding effects of future socioeconomic development as well as changing climatic and environmental conditions.
Under high climate change impact scenarios, the organization found that diseases increased by climate change will lead up to 44 million people falling into extreme poverty. The projection is a bit higher than its previous one, which came up with 30 million people — from bad to worse.
Food Impacts & Health Impacts
The report explored the dominant climate change impact channel in each region and noted that health impacts are important in richer regions while food prices have the most influence on the poorer regions. Health shocks and disasters are expected to push people into poverty even if their incomes were high without climate change impacts.
In contrast, the impacts on poverty through food prices affect poor people who are already living near the poverty level — many in this group spend a large share of their income on food. The study noted that even in the richest regions, poor people who are rich enough to manage the expected rise in food prices without falling into extreme poverty could be affected. Increasing food prices will reduce their real consumption.
131.5 Million People Could Fall Into Extreme Poverty
The new study has a few differences from the previous one. The new study projected a higher climate vulnerability, especially regarding the increase in the poverty headcount compared with the previous one. A key example is that under the worst-case scenario, the study projected that there will be on average 131.5 million people pushed into extreme poverty. The previous study projected 122 million.
Another example highlighted that rapid and inclusive development has a slightly smaller effect on the reduction of climate change impacts. Those effects are still substantial, but just slightly smaller. The previous study’s optimistic baseline reduced climate change impacts by 86%, while the new one showed that the optimistic baseline reduced the impacts by 50% — well down from the previous study.
To achieve these differences, the second study used a set of scenarios for characterizing the two baselines, and the core message despite the difference is still the same:
“Rapid and inclusive development can be seen as an adaptation in itself since it substantially reduces climate change impacts on poverty.”
The report also took a dive into Covid-19 and how the pandemic affected the world’s poorest last year. It’s still going on in India right now. The report noted that the likely short-term impacts of climate change on poverty are on the same order of magnitude as the impacts of Covid-19:
71 million t0 100 million additional people in extreme poverty.
“There is utmost urgency to act to protect people affected by the COVID-19 crisis and restore the historical trend toward the eradication of extreme poverty, but doing so is possible only by factoring in future climate change impacts and the need to provide all individuals, and especially the poorest, with the capacity and resources to adapt to them”
How The Poorest Are Paying The Highest Price Of Climate Change
Robert Davis, a journalist who covers housing, police, and government, wrote about this on Medium, describing how the world’s poorest people are still paying the highest price of climate change. He included the above report in his piece but also detailed other reports and statistics.
In one example, Davis noted that the people of Malawi spend as much as 63% of their income on food and beverages due to the dramatic increases in food prices caused by climate change. The International Monetary Fund estimated that over half of Malawians live in poverty, with 25% living in extreme poverty.
Davis also brought up poverty here in the U.S. and noted that researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame linked the Covid-19 pandemic to the largest spike in poverty that the U.S. has seen in decades. The poverty levels jumped from 9.3% in June 2020 to 11.7% by the end of November.
Back in March, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) posted its annual Homelessness Assessment Report and noted that the increase of poverty correlated with a 2.2% increase in homelessness across the nation last year. This was the largest increase since the 1960s. Davis noted that over 580,000 Americans currently sleep rough — which is a term meaning literally sleeping on the streets — here in the U.S. This is according to data from HUD. Honestly, I count myself very fortunate that I was not in that number, having slept rough before and being woken up by police poking me with batons — it’s not an ideal situation.
Davis pointed out something that many who have never experienced poverty don’t understand, and I want to emphasize the importance of this statement.
“Poverty isn’t just about getting a home or losing one. It’s about having to overcome increased incidences of health issues and decreased access to jobs, opportunities, and banking to attain even the most basic means of survival.”
People look at someone on the streets and think, “Oh, just go get a job,” but poverty is something that is a major contributor to homelessness and they just don’t get that. For example, if you don’t have your ID and you don’t have a place to stay, you can’t get a job. You need an ID to get a job. In order to get an ID, you need an address. Sure, there are homeless help organizations that will help you get your ID (I benefitted from this when living in Atlanta), but many of these organizations have probably felt the pain of the pandemic and are probably in need of funds in order to stay in operation.
Davis also touched upon the environmental causes of poverty, such as those living in areas with unclean air. I live in what’s known as Cancer Alley due to all of the plants here polluting our air. Davis noted that people of color are three times more likely to live in these areas, and I’ve written about this recently as well. Severe health issues can put people in poverty.
How To Solve This
The World Bank noted in its report that rapid and inclusive development is necessary to reduce climate change vulnerability.
“We show that climate change may have significant impacts on global poverty incidence in this decade, possibly pulling more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030.”
The best way to solve this is to take action. We can’t wait on government or corporate institutions to do it. Instead, we have to take this down to the individual level. Have family meetings, plan for disasters, and if you can afford it, look into donating to charities that help the poor. These charities will be the lifelines that many depend on.
Right now, India is in a severe state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hospitals are overcrowded and they have run out of oxygen to give to patients. Organizations such as UNICEF are rallying for aid to help those struggling in India. We as individuals need to evaluate how we contribute to climate change and how we can help those in need — especially those who are less fortunate. Your trash being thrown in the river will end up killing the ecosystem of someone else’s fishing pool — as the jet stream moves it. So to adopt the attitude that it’s happening in another part of the world and it doesn’t affect me is pretty selfish. All of our actions impact those near us and those on the other side of the world.
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