Climate change: Good for Champagne, bad for poverty

(Credit: Tom Coates/flickr)

It turns out that climate change is great news for Champagne makers. Rising temperatures are beneficial in reducing grape acidity and avoiding grape-killing frost.

But it’s no cause for celebration for the 100 million people who could be pushed into poverty by global warming. Keeping them out of that slide will require changes to slow the rate of warming, and according to a new report from the World Bank, those changes would be enough to help.

The purpose of the report is to apply pressure to the 117 heads of state who arrive in Paris next month for the U.N. climate summit. The goal is to finalize a global plan to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. Negotiators are said to be close to a deal, and early concerns that talks might falter are suddenly looking overly pessimistic. France’s foreign minister said Tuesday that progress is being made toward a final deal, and he is not alone in that optimism.

“It continues to be entirely possible to come to an agreement … despite all the challenges in front of us,” said U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

The main thrust of the meeting will be to agree on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The negative effects of global warming to the planet are well documented and the report illustrates the real human cost. The World Bank has consistently argued that climate is key if we are to end poverty.

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“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 Jim Yong Kim, head of the World Bank, in a press release. “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.”

But making agreements at high-level meetings about carbon emissions is not enough, warns the report. The impact of climate change over the next 15 years will be hard to reverse at this point. Its authors recommend steps to support countries and communities in their abilities to adapt to climate change and deal with increasing variability. Examples include improving defenses against floods in more prone areas and investing in crops that are heat and low-rain tolerant in drier places.

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the rate of people leaving poverty is barely greater than the number of people falling back into poverty due to crop failures caused by climate change. A small decrease in the rate of people leaving poverty could radically alter the balance – so could a decrease in on the other half of the equation. Agriculture would be hit hardest and have the greatest impact through changing incomes for small-holder farmers and food prices for consumers.

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Trends show that droughts could increase by between 9 percent and 17 percent by 2030 and jump by as much as 90 percent by 2080. Modeling studies suggest that climate change could result in global crop yield losses as large as 5 percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2080. Taken together, these problems could affect rates of hunger and keep people in poverty.

“The report demonstrates that ending poverty and fighting climate change cannot be done in isolation – the two will be much more easily achieved if they are addressed together,” said Stephane Hallegatte, a senior economist at the World Bank who led the team that prepared the report. “And between now and 2030, good, climate-informed development gives us the best chance we have of warding off increases in poverty due to climate change.”

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.