1. Editorial: Climate curse

Editorial: Climate curse

Climate change exacerbates global poverty

By: | Published: November 12, 2015 12:12 AM

Climate change, the World Bank warns, will impact the world’s vulnerable in a devastating manner unless urgent action is taken to shield them from the threats to food security, the rising incidence of diseases like malaria and diarrhoea and natural disasters that are likely to result from it.

The Bank estimates 100 million more will fall into extreme poverty by 2030—45 million in India alone—and about 500 million will be left homeless.

Though the Bank joins the likes of the UN and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in predicting a poorer world because of climate change, the scale of addition to global poverty it foresees is much larger and the time-span within which it believes this addition could take place is much shorter (predating the FAO-predicted one by two decades).

Climate change poses a unique problem for eradicating poverty. On the one hand, frequent droughts, floods and pest infestations resulting from it will greatly diminish agricultural productivity—global crop yields could fall by 5% by 2030, the Bank estimates.

This would drive up prices and lower food security for millions, with just the number of people exposed to droughts increasing by 9–17% in 2030 even as farm incomes fall. In Uganda, between 2005 and 2011, a 10% reduction in water availability due to a lack of rainfall reduced crop income by almost 20% for the poorest households.

It is also expected to lead to increased morbidity, resulting in greater out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare for the poor.

Add to this the costs of facing and recovering from frequent natural disasters, and those keeping just above poverty are likely to be pushed into it.

On the other hand, emission-reduction policies could drive up energy and food costs—at least, in the short-term—as countries transition to alternatives to fossil fuels. In India alone, the lowest tariff discovered for solar-generated electricity is Rs 4.63/unit while NTPC sells coal-based electricity to discoms at R3.2/unit, though, often, distribution inefficiencies cause coal-based power tariffs to bloat.

Given most emission-reduction efforts will take a long time to have tangible effects, policy focus in the short-run has to be on reducing vulnerability if the 2030 forecast is to be avoided. Given, in both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, the Bank predicts agriculture would be the main sectoral driver of poverty due to climate change, steps such as increasing acreage of drought-resistant crops, universalising healthcare and increasing penetration of insurance to curb growing out-of-pocket expenditure on health could help nations sustainably tackle poverty.

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