SEATTLE, Washington — Climate change has been one of this century’s most widely-discussed global issues among developed nations, but the reality is that climate change will disproportionately affect the poor. Threatening not only a way of life but a key element of survival, climate change will diminish agricultural yields with resulting food shortages for the poor on a global scale.
Agriculture is the main source of income for 70 percent of rural impoverished populations, and crops also offer nutrition to these families. The inter-generational knowledge that has long yielded a steady food supply and source of income is now in more jeopardy than previous years due to human activity that is affecting the global climate.
The World Bank has developed various models to predict how poverty will impact the next generation. In a best-case scenaria with strong unilateral action on climate change and social and economic policies to help reduce poverty, the World Bank estimates that 142 million people will be living in poverty in 2030. However, with unfavorable economic and social policies, extreme poverty could trap 900 million individuals. This number rises to more than one billion if climate change is not addressed.
Over time, food prices will rise, causing poorer populations to spend even larger proportions of salaries on nutrition — in the poorest regions of the world, 60 percent of incomes is spent on food. By 2080, sub-Saharan Africa could see a 75 percent increase in agricultural prices. Drought and heat wave incidence will increase, which can cut agricultural yields by 10 percent. Rising sea levels, more endemic pest problems and epidemics such as malaria will be spread with rising temperatures. All of these factors will affect food production.
Farms that exist in tropical and subtropical climates are more sensitive to increasing global temperatures. Additionally, farmers that cannot afford irrigation are more at risk. Food shortages for the poor in these regions could be fought with the installation of irrigation systems or genetically-modified heat-resistant crops, but the plausibility of widespread public investment in these areas is unknown.
Agriculture has been a pillar of human proliferation for the past 12,000 years. Farming has allowed the world population to grow from about five million people at the beginning of the agricultural age, to more than seven billion today. Farming has been important for countless generations, and as a lifestyle it is now at risk.
With increasing pressures on rural farming, particularly among the poor who cannot afford irrigation or resilient crops, climate change is not only harming incomes but forcing the world’s poor away from their ancestral lands and livelihood. Urbanization has many positive aspects, but it also has been shown to increase sexual exploitation in vulnerable populations and contribute to AIDS proliferation. Among urban residents, 700 million do not have access to adequate sanitation, and the most recent ebola outbreak (with an estimated cost of $32 billion and 11,310 human lives) is evidence of the devastation that dangerous pathogens can have on cities with little to no health monitoring systems.
Global leaders can join efforts to avert these potential food shortages for the poor through immediate collaborative action to combat climate change. The solution is within reach and could guarantee the availability of food and income for millions who may otherwise be deprived of their way of life.
– Patrick Tolosky