Climate Change and Poverty
While climate change is a global phenomenon, its negative impacts are more severely felt by poor people and poor countries. They are more vulnerable because of their high dependence on natural resources, and their limited capacity to cope with climate variability and extremes. However, Prince Charles recently told of his view that climate change should be dealt with before poverty.
“How can we begin to address poverty if we haven't first ensured our planet is habitable? If we do nothing, the consequences for every person on this earth will be severe and unprecedented - with vast numbers of environmental refugees, social instability and decimated economies: far worse than anything which we are seeing today.”
Poverty is an ongoing problem in the UK, this is despite it being a wealthy country. According to Oxfam, 1 in 5 people in the UK don’t have enough to live on. There were 2.9 million children and 2.5 million pensioners living in poverty in the UK in 2006/2007. Children go to school hungry, or to bed without enough food. Poor communities are in poorer health and have shorter life expectancy.
Regarding climate change, there is evidence that there is less than a decade to seriously reduce carbon emissions before potentially irreversible changes to the climate begin to happen. A future of uncontrolled climate change will mean heat waves, rises in sea level, flooding, and unpredictable weather that will create upheaval in the UK.
These problems of climate change and poverty are closely connected. People in poverty are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, as they tend to have a lower level of physical and mental health, live in worse housing and have fewer resources to cope with rising costs. Equally, the measures to combat climate change – namely drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions – unless carefully tailored will, like the effects of climate change, hit the poorest hardest.
The failure to see that the problems of climate change and poverty are interrelated has meant that at times the environmental and social justice movements have worked against each other, rather than working together. Campaigns for building new homes for low-income families, for example, have appeared to be in conflict with arguments for protecting greenbelt land. All too often, these apparently opposing interests have allowed policy-makers to avoid taking action urgently required on the conflicting issues of climate change and poverty.