Climate Change Poised to Push 100 Million Into 'Extreme Poverty' by 2030
Adding urgency to the call for bold emissions cuts and a radical rethinking of the global economy, a new report from the World Bank warns that human-caused climate change could push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty within just 15 years.
Entitled "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty," the World Bank's study differs from previous efforts by looking at the poverty impacts of climate change at the household level, rather than at the level of national economies.
Already, global warming is sparking higher agricultural prices; increasing "natural hazards" such as heat waves, droughts and floods; and exacerbating public health issues. Photo credit: World Bank / Flickr
Already, global warming is sparking higher agricultural prices; increasing "natural hazards" such as heat waves, droughts and floods; and exacerbating public health issues, the report states. Without "immediate" adoption of mitigation, adaptation and emission-reduction policies, the World Bank cautions that rising greenhouse gases—and temperatures—will continue to ravage vulnerable populations, dragging them further into poverty.
The bank's most recent estimate puts the number of people currently living in extreme poverty at 702 million or 9.6 percent of the world’s population.
"Poor people and poor countries are exposed and vulnerable to all types of climate-related shocks—natural disasters that destroy assets and livelihoods; waterborne diseases and pests that become more prevalent during heat waves, floods or droughts; crop failure from reduced rainfall; and spikes in food prices that follow extreme weather events," it reads. "Climate-related shocks also affect those who are not poor but remain vulnerable and can drag them into poverty—for example, when a flood destroys a micro-enterprise, a drought decimates a herd or contaminated water makes a child sick."
For example, the report states that by 2030, crop yield losses could mean that food prices would be 12 percent higher on average in Sub-Saharan Africa. "The strain on poor households, who spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, could be acute," the World Bank declares. Meanwhile, in India alone, an additional 45 million people could be pushed over the poverty line by 2030, primarily due to agricultural shocks and increased incidence of disease.
To combat these devastating impacts, Shock Waves recommends implementing a combination of:
- rapid, inclusive and climate-informed development and targeted adaptation interventions to cope with the short-term impacts of climate change; and
- pro-poor mitigation policies to limit long-term impacts and create an environment that allows for global prosperity and the sustainable eradication of 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.
#Shockwaves report out! Without #ClimateSmart dev, 100mln more ppl in Poverty by 2030: https://t.co/qEKlOxS2s7 https://t.co/yD7FbDbZmW— World Bank (@World Bank)1447127717.0
Among the report's specific recommendations are to improve health care systems and access; help households at all income levels gain access to financial instruments for risk management; and provide social protections to help support poor people affected by disasters or environmental and economic shocks.
Noting that "there is still too often a disconnect between bank research and its own practices," the head of Oxfam International's Washington office, Nicolas Mombrial, on Monday urged the global financial institution "to heed its own warnings and support equitable, low carbon development" and "promote community resilience to climate change through its policies and programs."
Furthermore, he said, the report adds further credence to the call for an ambitious agreement to come out of the upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris. "Any climate deal must commit countries to making their greenhouse gas cuts more aggressive and help vulnerable countries to adapt to climate impacts," Mombrial said. "It must also promote clean growth by dramatically increasing public finance, building on the yearly $100 billion already promised by 2020."
"This report further highlights what Oxfam has been warning for many years: climate change is exacerbating inequality and hurting poor people first and worst," Mombrial concluded. "To effectively solve the climate crisis we must simultaneously tackle the root causes of poverty and hunger globally."
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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