Published On: Mon, Nov 9th, 2015

World Bank warns of increased poverty in Latin America and Caribbean due to climate change

world_bank_headquartersWASHINGTON, United States – Without climate-informed development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2.6 million more people could fall into extreme poverty by 2030, largely as a result of the health impacts of climate change and effects of warmer temperatures on worker productivity, according to a World Bank report.

Natural disasters are also likely to disproportionately affect the poor in the region.

The report, Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, finds that poor people are already at high risk from climate-related shocks, including crop failures from reduced rainfall, spikes in food prices after extreme weather events, and increased incidence of diseases after heat waves and floods. It says such shocks could wipe out hard-won gains, leading to irreversible losses, driving people back into poverty

Climate change is already preventing people from escaping poverty, and without rapid, inclusive and climate-smart development, together with emissions-reductions efforts that protect the poor, overall there could be more than 100 million additional people in extreme poverty by 2030.

The report, released a month before negotiators gather in Paris for international climate talks, finds that the poorest people are more exposed than the average population to climate-related shocks such as floods, droughts, and heat waves, and they lose much more of their wealth when they are hit.

In the 52 countries where data was available, 85 percent of the population live in countries where poor people are more exposed to drought than the average.  Poor people are also more exposed to higher temperatures and live in countries where food production is expected to decrease because of climate change.

“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,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “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.”

Agriculture will be the main driver of any increase in poverty, the report finds. Modelling studies suggest that climate change could result in global crop yield losses as large as five per cent by 2030 and 30 per cent by 2080. Health effects – higher incidence of malaria, diarrhea and stunting – and the labour productivity effects of high temperatures are the next-strongest drivers.

In focusing on impacts through agriculture, natural disasters and health, the report calls for development efforts that improve the resilience of poor people, such as strengthening social safety nets and universal health coverage, along with climate-specific measures to help cope with a changing climate, such as upgraded flood defences, early warning systems and climate-resistant crops.

At the same time, the report says an all-out push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is needed to remove the long-term threat that climate change poses for poverty reduction and such mitigation efforts should be designed to ensure that they do not burden the poor. For example, it said, the savings from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies could be reinvested in assistance schemes to help poor families cope with higher fuel costs.

“The future is not set in stone,” said Stephane Hallegatte, a senior economist at the World Bank who led the team that prepared the report. “We have a window of opportunity to achieve our poverty objectives in the face of climate change, provided we make wise policy choices now.”

The report also reviews successful policy solutions to show that good development can protect the poor from shocks.

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