Climate Change and its Adverse Effects on the Poor

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Climate Centre, in his recent report said their agency was already seeing evidence that the poor were the hardest hit in weather related disasters.  He also pointed out that climate change would make it much more difficult for poorer developing countries to get out of poverty, as well as impacting on regions in both rich and poor countries.

So what is Climate change and Global warming?

We think of disasters across the world; like earthquakes, hurricanes, erupting volcanoes and freak tidal waves  that effect many thousands of people. These  only impact on one region at any given time. But a threat greater than anything humankind have faced in recent history is the gradual rising of the earth’s temperatures known as Global Warming which could transform the planet we live on in the future. The weather patterns will become more erratic, forcing great change in seas and on land, leaving more people impoverished by the resulting effects. Climate change means a significant change in the temperatures, rainfall and wind. Climate has changed many times in the world’s history, ranging from the Ice Age periods to periods of warmth. These were all a natural change, the difference now is that human activities are significantly contributing to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gas emissions arise from many diverse activities. The most recent figures compiled show that in Ireland agriculture is the biggest contributor to overall emissions at 29.8% of the national total, followed by energy at 21%. The residential sector accounts for 12%, industry and commercial at 14.8%  and waste, 2%.  These emissions are interfering with air and ocean temperatures,  which cause drought, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, increased rainfall, flooding and other disasters. Ireland is a very small country with a small population, but our gas emissions per person are amongst the highest of any country in the world.

Across the world the planet keeps getting hotter and this week a new study in the USA reported that the year 2012 was the warmest ever recorded. This shines a spotlight on how those of us who consume excess energy add to emissions that are destructive to all living things, both in the sea and on land and the disruption that may follow from such a lack of awareness as to the damage we are causing. The people that are the cause of high emissions and are causing this potential catastrophe are those in the richer countries   and are not going to be the ones who suffer. The poorer countries who have not contributed to this problem are the ones that will be most vulnerable.


Natural disasters between 2000 and 2009  were  three times higher than in the 1980’s according to the Red Cross. When we have a disaster that decreases food supplies and damage homes and people are pushed to homelessness, it creates an environment that is susceptible to conflict.  We have all seen TV pictures and documentaries showing food unrest and riots, triggered by shortage of food, spiralling prices and clashes over water and the wiping out of infrastructure. Governments are unable to protect people at these times or have the resources to assist them.  Research shows that the poor suffer most in weather related disasters making them even poorer.


People who are socially, economically, culturally and politically marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change. The poor or those who live in consistent poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the bad effects of climate change.  The reduction  in crop yields always tend to higher prices across the world.  In poorer countries the shortage of food leads to malnutrition and disease. Infrastructure like water systems, housing and settlements, transport networks, utilities and industry along coastal regions are already at risk, where rising seas and freak tides are causing havoc. In Ireland we have seen coastal erosion escalate at an alarming rate.

Pope Francis has issued an unequivocal statement that climate change is man- made and must be tackled by every person.  At the G7 summit in Germany this year and attended by seven of the most powerful leaders in the developed world  promised to stop using fossil fuels by the end of the century and to cut global emissions by up to 70% of 2010 levels by 2050.  According to a UN-Energy  report  2.4 billion people rely on Biomass for cooking  while 1.6 billion people worldwide have no electricity. In well off or rich countries the lowering of thermostats, dealing with longer, hotter summers and seasonal shifts maybe the only disadvantage.  But for those who suffer weather disasters, unproductive harvests and poor health resulting from climate change which brings  famine, drought and a range of deadly diseases, for those on  low incomes with meagre or no assets, the urgency of addressing global climate change must be seen to be urgent and immediate. We can all do our bit by becoming aware of how our excesses are affecting the lives of so many old, poor and vulnerable people across the globe. In South Africa solar water heaters and biodiesel have helped improve the welfare of people’s homes, these improved technologies also provide job opportunities and skills development which help alleviate poverty.

When we look at ecological systems they have already been transformed. Half of the world’s coral reef system have suffered bleaching as a result of warming, the sun can penetrate 30 metres into the sea, so plankton the food of the oceans are also at grave risk. This could lead to depletion of fish and other living animals that the seas are home to. By 2050 over one million plant and animal species will become extinct due to climate change and global warming.  So it behoves us all to take steps to reduce your energy use, improve efficiency and help end global warming. The biggest cause of global warming is the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuel such as oil and coal are burned for energy.  So as well as saving energy you will save money too. An attractive incentive for us  all.

10 easy ways to reduce global warming.  We can all help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by making even small changes. Here are some;

Reduce, reuse, recycle paper, plastic, newspapers, glass and aluminium tins. Use less heat by insulating walls, attic, and hot water. Turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees.  Change all light bulbs to CFL’s which last up to ten times longer than ordinary bulbs. Use the car less and keep the tyres correctly inflated, walk cycle or use public transport.  Use less hot water, have shorter showers, use energy saving programmes on dishwashers and washing machines.  Use the OFF switch on lights, TV’s, computers, video players, etc.  Plant one tree which will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Don’t let heat escape from your house, insulate, keep windows and doors closed.   Encourage others to conserve.