Think climate change has nothing to do with you? Think again

by Miren Gutierrez | Overseas Development Institute
Tuesday, 25 March 2014 14:02 GMT

A boy stands on top of a sea-wall near the village of Tangintebu on South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati on May 26, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Development and climate change goals must work together, or advances against poverty and hunger are at risk, researchers say

You probably think climate change has nothing to do with you. So, exercise your imagination and place yourself in 2030. Wheat could have disappeared from Africa, millions of people could be at risk of hunger, between one and four billion people are finding it difficult to access clean water across southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America, and entire islands are vanishing under the waters of the Pacific.

Does it look like doomsday? Well, that is what organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Bank are considering.

This doomsday world is getting less difficult to imagine, and not just from what we see in movies. Take last year for example. A polar front swept across the southern United States, and a devastating typhoon flew over the Philippines causing thousands of deaths. This year, so far, floods have drowned parts of the UK. Events like these could become more common in the future due to climate change.

The enormity of this problem has not been reflected in previous or current policy. What we know about what will happen as a result of rapidly changing weather has not been translated into concrete measures that fully consider the possible effects of climate change.


However the effects of climate change have the potential to halt advances in key development areas such as poverty eradication. It may even reverse progress already made because the effects of climate change will impact things that matter to people: health, education and employment.

Meanwhile, negotiations toward new development goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and toward a new deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, both by 2015, are taking place separately as if they had little to do with each other.

This is despite science telling us that, by 2015, a radical cut in carbon dioxide emissions has to be in place so global temperature does not exceed a 2 degree Celsius increase. New financing measures to help the poorest adapt to irreversible climate change must be agreed. This will not only save lives, but also will help ensure decent and sustainable livelihoods for the most vulnerable communities, who are the least responsible for contributing to climate change.

International agreements on climate and development must be discussed and negotiated alongside each other. There are several ways in which climate change can be integrated into the objectives of sustainable development. But it is not enough, if climate is not integrated in them and they don’t include “climate-smart” targets, to state that the goals are "sustainable."

This discussion is the focal point for a recent report published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). In it, we review more than one hundred scientific publications to determine what science is saying about the impacts of climate change on things like food security, agriculture, access to energy, access to water and sanitation, health, poverty reduction and education.

The report finds that there is very little data about the more indirect impacts of climate. A no-brainer, you’ll say, but a complex and important issue for research, which is the basis for policy (one only hopes!). It is not as if climate change will not impact on issues like employment, education, gender equality and security. It simply means that, because the impact will be indirect, it is difficult to establish a scientific confirmation of the magnitude of the impact.


Gender equality, for example will be impacted through areas such as health, food security and access to water, which in turn will be hit by climate change. We know that in 38 of the 48 countries surveyed by the United Nations in a 2010 report, women (over 15 years old) are responsible for searching and collecting drinking water. The harder it is to access it, the further they will have to walk, the worse their health will be, and the less time they will have to educate themselves.

Overall, the impacts of climate change in various areas of development are deep and broad. It would be unfair to deal with climate change without considering the people, but to face development without considering climate change is foolish.

In 2015, the world has a chance to get it right. Carrying on as we are holds enormous risks, so climate change must be central to the efforts to end poverty, however complicated this is. Negotiations are beginning as we speak.

Now you can return to your reality. But no one is exempt from the effects of climate change. Not even you.

Miren Gutierrez is the climate business and communications manager at the Overseas Development Institute. She is also co-author of the Zero poverty… think again report, together with Will McFarland and Lano Fonua.