Climate Change is Boosting Global Inequality

Climate Change is Boosting Global Inequality and Current Political Systems are Not Equipped to Tackle It

words Ashita Parekh

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”

Ban Ki-moon

It is no secret that developing countries have gotten the shorter end of the stick in relation to the devastating effects of climate change. Countries that were least responsible for the onset of climate change are the ones dealing with the worst of its consequences.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science finds that climate change, and anthropogenic warming, has had devastating effects on the socio-economic development of warmer, poorer countries. On the contrary, warmer temperatures have, in some sense, benefitted the economy of colder, wealthier countries by improving the quality of life of its inhabitants and boosting tourism.

“For example, for cooler countries such as Norway, warming moves the country-mean temperature closer to the empirical optimum, resulting in cumulative economic benefits. In contrast, for warm countries such as India, warming moves the country-mean temperature further from the optimum, resulting in cumulative losses.”

Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke

The study states that the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for the poorest countries has depreciated by 17-31%, widening the GDP gap between wealthier and poorer nations by 25% more than in a world without global warming. Death rates in South East Asia have spiked because of sweltering summer temperatures, droughts, floods, and an increase in tropical cyclones and erratic storms. Poorer countries are forced to spend money and resources, required for future development, on relief programs for climate-change-induced natural disasters, largely undermining the country’s progress.

Climate Change is Boosting Global Inequality: People use rickshaws to commute through a flooded road after heavy rains in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati on Sept. 23, 2014
People use rickshaws to commute through a flooded road after heavy rains in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati

However, economic distress caused by natural disasters is just scraping the surface of climate-change-created issues. The past several decades have witnessed climate change to be an indirect cause for civil unrest and forced migration around the globe. Anthropogenic climate change is fuelling boarder crises and changing the landscape of border politics as we know it. A key study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) notes that climate change could lead to the human migration and displacement of approximately 200 million people by 2050. Erratic storms, prolonged periods of drought, and catastrophic coastal flooding, caused by anthropogenic global warming, could serve as a backdrop for mass exodus around the globe.

“Climate change is never going to be the one thing that causes a war or that causes a government to fall or that drives migration, but it is a factor within that that makes all of the other factors more difficult.”

Andrew Holland, Chief Operating Officer of the American Security Project

For example, the civil unrest in Venezuela might be directly linked to declining global oil prices and poor implementation of government policies but one cannot overlook the groundwork laid by the effects of climate change. For the past ten years, Venezuela has been experiencing a 50-60% decrease in the average annual rainfall, leading to a period of severe and persistent drought. Disruption in agricultural outputs and the lack of food and water put the Venezuelan economy into distress, leading up to the present-day political unrest and mass migration. As of today, more than 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country and around 7 million others are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.

With every passing minute, the consequences of climate change only become more complex. There is no one answer to fix the issue of global inequality, or forced migration. But, it is very clear that world’s leaders need to address and mitigate this grave issue, that is entirely of our own making. Current political systems and agendas are still functioning on a capitalist mindset whereas the need for a climate-centric policy approach has never been more apparent. Policies shouldn’t blindly focus on improving a given country’s economy, but rather on preserving and maintaining earth’s life-giving resources. Any efforts undertaken by individuals, communities or political parties to mitigate climate change would automatically boost the global economy.