OPINION: IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C highlights challenge to achieve climate stability and end poverty
CDKN’s Mairi Dupar says we must heed the IPCC’s 1.5°C Special Report and prevent further climate change that will harm the most vulnerable people – while ensuring that ambitious climate mitigation efforts do not disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable people, either. Thankfully, pilot initiatives show that integrated adaptation, mitigation and poverty eradication are possible, and these can be scaled up.
The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC is of profound importance for policy-makers, business leaders, producers and consumers the world over. It is of particular consequence in the battle to end extreme poverty, and for anyone concerned with social justice.
Warming world threatens global commitment to end poverty
The Special Report finds that climate change is causing loss of life, livelihoods and assets, today, and the world’s poorest people bear the brunt—with global warming already 1°C above preindustrial levels. The poorest typically lack the wherewithal to remove themselves from exposure to climate-related risks, or the economic resilience to recover from climate-related disasters.
The IPCC confirms that “disadvantaged and vulnerable populations and nations will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C and beyond” – especially those dependent on agricultural and coastal livelihoods.
CDKN-backed research has documented multiple instances of irreversible climate-related losses suffered by low income and vulnerable populations today—as in the study Evidence from the frontlines of climate change. What is more, CDKN research shone a light on the many ‘invisible’ climate-related risks that cumulatively undermine the resilience of low-income households – as far apart as slum neighbourhoods in Lima, Peru, and rural villages in Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Caution: ill-conceived climate mitigation also threatens the poor
IPCC scientists assert the world must reach net zero emissions by mid-century – for a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and escaping some of the calamitous, large scale impacts and tipping points that could be expected at 2°C and beyond.
However, the 1.5°C Special Report also urges policy-makers to consider the development impacts of the climate mitigation action needed to reach net zero emissions within three decades.
Here lies the complex reality and challenge: dramatic mitigation implies “significant benefits” for society’s most vulnerable – the IPCC says – and also “adverse effects, depending on the mitigation options” chosen.
The IPCC is right to sound this caution: society must tackle climate change in ways that protect the poorest. ODI’s ‘Leave No-one Behind Index 2018’ finds that fully half of governments’ national climate plans fail to address the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups, such as indigenous and lower-caste people.
The IPCC’s warning is borne out by emerging evidence: research by the Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation Programme reveals that ‘Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’ (REDD+) schemes in Madagascar have reduced low income households’ ability to secure food supplies through their sustainable crop-rotation practices. Large scale investments in jatropha as a biofuel feedstock in Malawi have failed to alleviate poverty (as measured in its multiple dimensions) in rural areas. My summary of ESPA findings, An Environment for wellbeing: Pathways out of Poverty reinforces this message: it’s where human activity competes for finite natural resources (water, land, biodiversity) exacerbated by climate change impacts, that the pressures are acute and there is dangerous potential to make poverty worse for resource-dependent peoples.
A triple wins approach is possible — and is vital
There’s a need for ‘triple wins’ approaches that combine climate change adaptation, mitigation and development based on social equity — not purely on economic growth.
How could triple wins be achieved? For a start, massive social protection programmes to lift people out of poverty can be geared toward climate resilience and green jobs, such as the Green Cape initiative in South Africa. Promising local approaches to rural agroforestry and urban and peri-urban agriculture systems, which my colleagues and I describe in ‘Mainstreaming climate compatible development’, can be replicated widely in other localities – they are boosting people’s resilience to climate change by revitalising healthy vegetation cover, soil retention and soil nutrients, while contributing to local incomes and food security, reducing food miles and capturing atmospheric carbon. Meanwhile, we see how decentralised rural ‘mini-grids’ – powered by renewable energy – can electrify some of the most remote and under-serviced rural areas, while cutting indoor air pollution and greenhouse gases from unsustainable fuel sources. Such decentralised energy systems are often less vulnerable to extreme weather events (such as extreme heat) and climate change impacts (such as flooding) compared to centralised alternatives.
No magic bullets
Policies (including fiscal policies) and institutional arrangements, and associated economic instruments and finance are critical to make solutions like these work: there are no magic bullets.
For instance, adopting agroforestry systems to deliver ‘triple wins’ relies on effective farmer training and extension services and well-functioning markets. Capturing the ‘triple win’ benefits of peri-urban agriculture relies on supportive land zoning policies, equitable and fair land access and ownership arrangements, and well-run water management systems. The IPCC rightly lists technology transfer, investment in research and innovation, public awareness, education and behaviour change as cross-cutting, enabling factors to achieve climate compatible development.
What’s for sure is that we’ve run out of time to fail: collectively, we must be ‘smart learners’ from climate adaptation and mitigation efforts to date, and their consequences for the poorest people. Our job now is to reset public awareness and policy debates around development, recognise where progress has been made on triple wins approaches (or where short-term trade-offs must be made among actors, taking care to prioritise the needs of the poorest) and strengthen our resolve to build on early successes. Our sights must be on achieving long-term climate stability and in doing so, achieving social equity and an end to poverty.
Mairi Dupar is a Technical Advisor to CDKN, and is CDKN’s Gender and Social Inclusion Lead.
Image: Madre de Dios, Peru; courtesy CIFOR.