The heat is on
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Date: 15 May, 2006

The climate of poverty cover

New report from Christian Aid: 'The climate of poverty: facts, fears and hope'.


'As this report graphically illustrates, it is the poor of the world who are already suffering disproportionately from the effects of global warming.'

The 2006 Christian Aid Week report is titled ‘The climate of poverty: facts, fears and hope’. The report looks at how climate change is linked to poverty.

If 2005 was the year of Make Poverty History, then 2006 is turning into the year of climate change. Scarcely a week goes by without a new set of statistics being released or leaked, showing the accelerating process of global warming – and prompting ever more dire predictions about the future of the planet.

It may seem, then, that the news agenda has moved on – away from issues of aid, debt and trade, and how they affect the world’s poorest people. Christian Aid, however, believes that poverty and climate change are inextricably linked.

As this report graphically illustrates, it is the poor of the world who are already suffering disproportionately from the effects of global warming. The report also definitively shows that poor people in the world’s most vulnerable communities will bear the brunt of the forecast ‘future shock’.

Clear and present danger

The potential ravages of climate change are so severe that they could nullify efforts to secure meaningful and sustainable development in poor countries. At worst, they could send the real progress that has already been achieved spinning into reverse. No other single issue presents such a clear and present danger to the future welfare of the world’s poor.

Climate change, then, is a pressing poverty issue.

The facts in this report are harsh. The well-founded fears of what, on present trends, lies in store for the poor people of the world are even starker. But Christian Aid is also here to offer amessage of hope – there are things that can be done.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom if urgent action is taken by those with the power to deliver a radical change of direction.


One particularly stark figure in the report emphasises this need for urgency. Our research, based on current scientific predictions, has revealed that 185 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century.

That is three times the population of the UK condemned to die because of the spread and increasing intensity of disease, caused by rising temperatures over which they have little or no control. And that is only the start. What is true for people in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of disease is true for poor people across the developing world.

Elsewhere, an even greater threat will come from floods and ever more frequent natural disasters. Tens of millions of people are likely to be made homeless and left without the means of growing food or making a living to support their families.

Everywhere, the twin threats of drought and famine – caused by increasingly unpredictable rain patterns in tropical areas – are expected to bring even more misery. The unfolding disaster in east Africa, where 11 million people have been put at risk of hunger by years of unprecedented drought, is a foretaste of what is to come.

And where resources are scarce, particularly water, there are the seeds of continuing or accelerating conflict between increasingly desperate populations. Pestilence, floods, famine and war. An apocalyptic collection, indeed.

Christian Aid is turning its development and campaigning energies towards these issues because action is needed urgently. From this point on, the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest people will become a major focus of our work. We are also adding our voice to those demanding that governments across the globe take immediate steps to cut back on life-destroying carbon emissions.

New perspective

We believe that, as a development agency, we bring a new perspective to the debate, viewing as we do environmental issues through the prism of poverty. The stark fact is that climate change has already begun to impact detrimentally on poor people.

According to the UK government’s Department for International Development, some 94 per cent of disasters and 97 per cent of natural-disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries. Scientific opinion is moving inexorably towards acknowledging that the increasing incidence and severity of ‘extreme weather events’ that provoke many disasters is connected to climate change.

The European Commission has also concluded that climate change is no longer just an environmental issue. ‘It is also clearly a development problem since its adverse effects will disproportionately affect poorer countries.’

In June 2005, in the run up to the G8 meeting at Gleneagles, the academies of science of the world’s 11 richest countries (the G8 countries plus India, China and Brazil) made a joint statement calling for urgent action to combat climate change.

Never before have the academies issued such a statement.

If climate change remains unchecked, it is difficult to see how the UN’s millennium development goals, which aim to halve world poverty by 2015, can be met. Again, real progress towards these goals could go into reverse in the longer term unless something is done to arrest the rate of environmental degradation.

In this sense, the environment is too important to be left to the environmentalists.

Grasping the argument

Politicians are now grasping the climate change argument and in the UK are vying to appear greener than one another.

The Conservatives have made their ‘Quality of life challenge’, which includes a review of their policies on climate change and carbon emissions. Labour has Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposing a new World Bank fund of US$20 billion to help poorer countries pay for ‘clean’ technologies as they develop.

The World Bank has picked up the idea of a fund and recently published proposals for a ‘clean energy investment framework’, detailing how the US$20 billion would be raised, allocated and spent.

Mr Brown has also established a Treasury commission, under the leadership of former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, to consider the economic implications of climate change. Its report is due out later this year.

The Irish government has proposed the Irish Aid Environmental Policy for Sustainable Development, with an accompanying three-year action plan. While these initiatives are laudable, as with all statesmen’s grand statements, they will need to be closely monitored to make sure that they are delivered. Most importantly, they need to target the world’s poorest people.

Concrete actions

The other main message of this report is that there are concrete actions that can be taken to help people work their way out of poverty without risking further climate change and its associated threats. Christian Aid is offering a model for a different kind of development – one not fuelled by an ever-increasing use of carbon-based energy, such as oil or coal.

It shows how renewable energy could provide radical improvements to the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people – tangible benefits delivered on a timescale of months not decades.

Light for schools or small businesses, which can only currently operate during daylight hours, creating new opportunities – especially for women. Power for water pumps, doing away with the arduous daily slog to the nearest well. Energy for refrigeration units, meaning vital vaccines and other drugs can be kept safely.

These show how communities and countries can aspire to a better future, without repeating the destructive mistakes of the rich, industrialised world. There are real alternatives.

Blue sky thinking

The report also engages in some genuine ‘blue sky’ thinking to illustrate how renewable energy could even make sub-Saharan Africa a net exporter of clean, sustainable power in the future. This could alleviate many of its economic problems, while providing a solution to the rich world’s apparently insatiable desire for dirty power.

Much of our analysis concentrates on sub-Saharan Africa – which has the highest concentration of the world’s poorest people. It is also the one place on earth where development is actually going backwards; economically, people are worse off here than they were a decade ago. In health terms, they are more frequently ill and die younger.

So, the first of our case studies is Kenya, where we examine how climate change is fuelling violence in drought-hit areas. Pastoralists in the north of the country have started killing each other over the right to water their cattle at a diminishing number of watering holes. Experts predict that the situation can only deteriorate as climate change bites deeper.

We also look at Bangladesh, where virtually the entire population is precariously perched just above sea level. Predicted rises in this level would leave millions displaced and dispossessed.

There is, quite literally, nowhere for them to go. Already, families are having to move every couple of years, as increased melt water from the Himalayan glaciers sweeps their land and fragile livelihoods away. Without concerted efforts to alleviate these effects, say experts there, we can forget about making poverty history – climate change is set to make it permanent.


As ever, Christian Aid is speaking out on behalf of those who have most to lose from a continuation of climate chaos – poor people. Rich countries must take responsibility for having largely created this problem – and cut CO2 emissions radically.

Leaders must have the political courage to set clear targets to reduce their national emissions, and then have the ingenuity and vision to find the ways and means to hit those targets.

We are calling on Britain and Ireland to lead the way by setting an annual, constantly contracting ‘carbon budget’, which plots a course, year on year, towards a two-thirds reduction in emissions on 1990 levels, by 2050.

This does not mean that governments of developing countries can turn a blind eye to climate change. Those that have enjoyed economic growth, such as India, China and Brazil, should agree to reduce emissions and set targets for doing so – ideally as part of the deal that must be struck to succeed the Kyoto protocol.

We also believe that a ninth millennium development goal – calling on governments to reduce emissions as a critical contribution to the fight against poverty – should be added to the existing eight.


Christian Aid, for its part, will set its own targets to reduce emissions. As an agency that seeks to serve poor people, we must not contribute to their suffering. We will encourage our supporters to do the same.

The reality, though, is that climate change is already taking place and will inevitably continue. Poor people will take the brunt, so we are calling on rich countries to help them adapt as the seas rise, the deserts expand, and floods and hurricanes become more frequent and intense. Specific aid packages should compensate poor countries for their losses, as well as helping them plot a clean route to development.

These payments must not be taken from existing aid budgets, but instead represent additional aid in recognition of the historical and ongoing responsibility rich nations bear for the impact of their actions on the developing world.

It is time that we truly shared the welfare of the planet, for the good of us all.

• Download the full report (1.7mb PDF)

Download the report in sections (PDFs):
• Introduction (243kb)
• Chapter 1: Climate change - destroying development (324kb)
• Chapter 2: Empowering the poor (627kb)
• Chapter 3: Kenya - drought and conflict (204kb)
• Chapter 5: Bangladesh - erosion and flood (326kb)
• Chapter 6: Recommendations (187kb)

• Climate change is a theological issue
• Professor Richard Odingo interview

• Christian Aid Week 2006
• Surefish home page