Climate Change and the Rise of Poverty

December 9, 2018

Today over 2 billion people, or one third of the global population, are poor or near-poor and face persistent vulnerabilities, including from climate change. Estimates are that by 2030 more than 100 million people could fall back into extreme poverty owing to climate change, while over 200 million people could be displaced owing to more frequent and severe climatic disasters. As highlighted this week at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, unless urgent action is taken under the Paris Agreement, climate change will catalyse a resurgence of poverty and decelerate progress across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For the UN Development Programme (UNDP), a top priority is to accelerate local action and build the resilience of the poor. This builds on UNDPs role as the UNs largest provider of grant assistance for climate action with over $3 billion of projects in over 140 countries around the world. At the country level, UNDP serves as a platform for integrated solutions to combat both climate change and poverty. One priority in this regard is to build synergies between SDG target 1.3 to “implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all”, and SDG target 1.5 to “build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters”.

Social protection systems play a key role in combating poverty and building community resilience to crisis, and they can also play an important role in building climate resilience of the poor. The domains of social protection and climate change have emerged historically in relative isolation from each other, but focus has been expanding in recent years to make social protection more risk-informed, and climate actions more pro-poor and rights-based. Adaptive social protection (ASP) approaches help communities anticipate, absorb and adapt to climate risk, through solutions like cash transfers before and after onset of climatic disasters, subsidies to enhance food and water security for affected communities, employment-generating programmes around climate resilient infrastructure, use of weather indexed insurance for farmers, and systems to facilitate mobility and effective resettlement for climate affected communities.

As highlighted in a new UNDP report on Ecosystem Resilience for SDG Achievement and Human Security, this holds special importance for the Arab region, already the world’s most food import dependent and water insecure region. More than 40% of its 357 million population is already exposed to drought and other climatic disasters, and this could well increase as temperatures rise faster than the global average - by as much as 5 degrees Celsius by end of the century. In Sudan for example, UNDP supports a Climate Risk Finance programme, with a $5.7 million grant from the Least Developed Country Fund (LDC-F). The project helps develop the capacity of national insurance companies to develop and commercialize the country’s first Weather Index Insurance products and supports government partners to put in place enabling policies to support scaling up of climate insurance as a new form of social protection for the poor.

To build on local innovations and scale up integrated approaches across the region, and with support of Sweden, UNDP is now launching a new SDG Climate Facility regional project ($7 million; 2018-2022) to help countries take climate action in a way that brings benefits across the SDGs.

The Facility is a joint platform between UNDP, UNEP, UN-Habitat, UNISDR and WFP, and regional partners at the League of Arab States and the Arab Water Council. Alongside UNDP’s extensive country coverage and programming on poverty reduction and climate change, UN Environment brings its strong global network of insurance companies and other private partners, UNISDR brings its expertise analyzing loss and damage from climate impacts, and the World Food Programme leverages its capacity as the world’s largest humanitarian agency with a key focus on social protection in crisis affected communities.

The SDG Climate Facility will develop country capacities of Government policy makers, the private sector and local communities to take action under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, in a way that generates co-benefits for poverty reduction and related SDGs on gender equality, and food and water security. What this means on the ground is that climate-poverty hotspots can be identified, gaps in social protection and other poverty reduction measures will be identified, and that partnerships will be catalyzed to generate new climate resilient poverty reduction policies and pro-poor climate investments.

With just over a decade left to achieve the 2030 targets under the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change, the UN is accelerating its support for integrated policy solutions that generate real local results for the poor and vulnerable in society, and create a better future for both people and the planet.