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Climate change and poverty

The poorest people and the poorest countries are being hit hardest by climate change. Yet they bear least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2009 Human Impact Report claims that 300,000 people a year are already dying from the effects of climate change – and a further four billion are vulnerable to effects such as:

Women from Manniega village collect water from the Kioga river by scooping it out of a 5 foot deep hole in the dry river bed.

  • drought and water shortages
  • floods and other extreme weather
  • crop failures and food insecurity
  • reduced agricultural productivity
  • loss of low-lying lands and islands
  • desertification (the gradual transformation of habitable land into desert)
  • loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • spread of diseases, such as malaria

Many of these expected impacts of climate change will affect people already living in the most vulnerable situations.

Climate change threatens to undermine, and even reverse, the progress we’ve made to reduce poverty and promote development.

Why climate change threatens development
Many poor people live in regions that are susceptible to changes in the climate, for example drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa, or in marginal areas such as floodplains or unstable hillsides.

Roots are collected for food in drought stricken Madagascar

Poor people also tend to rely heavily on activities such as agriculture, fishing and collecting natural resources, which are sensitive to climate change.

Poor people have limited safety nets or insurance mechanisms to help them cope with climate change-related shocks, such failed harvests linked to changing weather patterns and loss or damage linked to increased natural disasters.

All these factors mean that poor communities are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Distributing stoves

What we're doing

  • We work in the UK, EU and internationally to limit dangerous climate change. We are developing and supporting climate-smart conservation and policy.
  • We work with local communities to ensure ecosystems are managed sustainably – this can make them more resilient to climate change impacts.
  • At a national level, we work to ensure that when governments develop national plans and policies, they are climate-smart and include good management of resources.
  • We also influence the way governments in both emerging and developed economies approach economic growth, advocating development that is sustainable, climte-smart and pro-poor.

Local man at his family burial site, now submerged in water, Navua, Fiji