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Adapting to climate change – how do poor people cope?

Climate change will increase the gaps between developed and developing countries, in terms of wealth, health and food security. This will make achieving goals to reduce poverty more difficult.

Poor people with few assets
cannot easily recover from climate disasters or change how they make their
living. They rely heavily on agriculture, fisheries, rivers and forests. These
resources could change drastically with climate change, making these groups
much more vulnerable than wealthier people. Additional factors, such as health problems
and unsafe housing, make poor people even more vulnerable.

Research by Practical Action in
the UK shows that efforts to reduce poverty can also help people to adapt to
climate change.

Climate change increases poverty
because it can cause major changes to natural resources, which many poor people
rely upon for food and income. The threats from climate change include large
natural disasters and the risks from slower changes to the climate. International
programmes to reduce climate change are important, for example the Kyoto
negotiations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, adaptation requires
governments to support local programmes and provide poor communities with the
information and skills they need to plan for changes.

Many countries have begun to
develop National Adaptation Plans of Action. These identify priorities for
action and then plan for impacts affecting a country’s most vulnerable areas,
livelihood sectors and groups. For example, they might identify flooding as a
priority, in coastal areas and plan for impacts on fisheries and fishermen.

Local programmes must:

  • train people to
    make use of new information, technology and infrastructure

  • help people to expand
    the ways they make a living, and rely less on one strategy that may be lost due
    to climate change

  • combine poverty reduction activities with natural resources
    management and disaster risk management programmes. This will help create
    practical solutions that are developed locally.

Industrialised countries are
largely responsible for climate change but people in developing countries are
most affected. People in developed nations are, to a large extent, protected
from climate change and natural disasters by their governments, insurance and
wealth. Developed nations are therefore responsible for reducing the effects of
climate change, compensating poor countries for the damage they suffer because
of climate change and for the costs of adaptation.

  • Adapting to climate
    change must be a part of all development policies, including the Millennium
    Development Goals.

  • Adaptation should
    not be planned and financed as a separate policy or programme. The most
    effective way to adapt is to reduce poverty and help people to lessen their
    vulnerability to climate disasters and change.

  • All project risk
    assessments should include climate change information and ensure that their
    interventions are ‘climate-proof’. For example, new enterprises and housing
    developments should be assessed for risk from climate change.