Combination of climate change and inequality increasingly drives risk
A combination of climate change and rising levels of inequality is a key driver of risk in the world today, and the convergence of these two factors calls for heightened attention as they pose an existential threat to the survival of the poor, especially those living in climate risk zones. This was the key finding of a discussion involving UN experts at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn this week.
Poor people are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change and have fewer resources to adapt. In 2017, many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Africa were confronted with disastrous consequences of hurricanes, floods, and droughts. Thousands of people lost their lives, while millions were displaced and were left scrambling for basic necessities, including food and water.
Owing to the gravity of the situation, the UN Human Rights Council last year adopted the UN Resolution on Human Rights and Climate Change, calling on member states and non-state actors from the private sector to address the human rights of climate-affected people. And the issue of human rights is included in the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Ahead of this year’s Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, which had a focus on global inequalities, the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said:
“Climate change is about more than just the weather, it’s connected to some of the most pressing issues humanity currently faces. By taking global, coordinated action on climate change by fulfilling their commitments under the Paris Agreement, nations can significantly address those major challenges while also achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
Highlighting how environmental risks always affect the poorest echelons of society, Koko Warner, Manager with the Adaptation Programme of UN Climate Change, quoted the example of the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010, which affected 20 million people. In that year hundreds were killed, around a million houses damaged or destroyed, and 300,000 people displaced.
“In the aftermath of the floods, people struggled to keep their children in schools or put food on the table; and about 60% of affected people lost their livelihoods,” she said.
Koko Warner talked about how the Pakistani government, among other measures, launched income-support initiatives to reduce the flooding impacts on 1 million poor households. The program helped build resilience among affected communities by targeting women’s empowerment.
Working together, women helped their communities rebuild. As an example, she mentioned how the combination of identity cards and access to ATM machines allowed women to receive their payments, which they used for food and house repair and keep their children in school. Providing technical tools like access to identity cards and cash transfers further paved the way for a better future after the floods.
“The ID cards enabled poor women to suddenly open a bank account, which was important for them to lift their families out of poverty”, she explained. “What we envision shapes our future, and we should shape it together.”
Other experts highlighted how climate change particularly exacerbates inequality in the world by exposing the poorest of the poor – especially women and children – to risks. In this connection, panelist Zita Sebesvari of the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), spoke about delta communities of the world and the problems they face because of climate change. She talked about the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and revealed how floods affect people in that part of the world.
“Depending on the season, large parts of the delta are flooded, but the pattern of flooding varies due to development decisions and climate change,” she said. “Consequently, farmers lose their yields and livelihood options, and some may even be forced to seek other sources of income. But not all farmers can afford such radical changes.”
Speaking about the interlinkage of the effects of climate change and the problems that people face because of it, Matthias Braubach of the European Center for Environment and Health of the World Health Organization (WHO) also shed light on health-related issues that can arise due to existing inequalities.
“There is a difference between inequality – where aspects are simply different and not equal – and inequity – which is said to be an unfair distinction,” he said. “We see different dimensions of inequalities on a global scale, for example in relation to climate change. Many of our planet's resources have already been used up by our lifestyle, and we have to ask how much is left for our future generations.”
Matthias Braubach also provided some insights into different countries such as Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, and pointed out how poor people suffer from health-related issues driven by the effects of climate change, like drinking unclean water, and surviving cold weather without sufficient heating.
At the event in Bonn, journalists from different countries emphasized that research conducted by UN agencies in different parts of the world should bring more human-interest stories to the forefront so that audiences can find it more relatable and engaging. Media professionals attending the event also stressed the need to better inform the broad public not only about what happens due to climate change, but also why and how climate change takes place.
About the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum
The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum is an international media conference that brings together decision makers and multipliers from the fields of journalism, digital media, politics, business, civil society and science from around the world. More than 2,000 participants came to Bonn from 11 to 13 June for this year’s event.