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Climate Change Could Push 100 Million People Into Poverty by 2030

As the World Bank warns that climate change could undo recent advances in poverty eradication, the UK Met Office says global temperatures are approaching a dangerous threshold.

by Eva Hershaw
Nov 10 2015, 5:58pm

Foto di Max Cabello/EPA

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As the world continues to warm into "uncharted territory," the World Bank says that reductions in global poverty in recent decades could be undone by unmitigated climate change, pushing 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

Data from the UK's Met Office shows that the 2015 global mean temperature is now 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, measured between 1850 and 1900. This marks an important milestone, as the United Nations has said that in order to avoid devastating consequences of climate change, global temperature rise must remain within 2C (3.6F).

"We've had similar natural events in the past, yet this is the first time we're set to reach the 1C marker," Stephen Belcher, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, said. "It's clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory."

To date, the office has recorded a global mean sea level rise of 20 centimeters over pre-industrial levels, but estimate that this number could triple by 2100 in a world that is 2C warmer. Their data indicates that temperatures in 2016 will be similar to this year, and that they expect the warming trend to continue in years ahead.

Such predictions form the driving concern behind a comprehensive report released on Monday by the World Bank, which warns that if swift action is not taken to curb emissions that cause climate change, not only will the world continue to warm, but that the trends could also reverse much of the last decades' work to eradicate poverty across the globe.

The report focuses on the disproportionate impact of natural disasters on the poor, as well as how climate change impacts agricultural production and human health.

Related: It's Pretty Obvious Not Enough Is Being Done Ahead of the Paris Climate Talks

The World Bank predicts that without climate-conscious development plans food prices could increase by 12 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and the poor, who spend as much as 60 percent of their household income on food, will likely suffer from increased malnutrition. Specifically, the report predicts a 23 increase in severe stunting across Africa.

Bank experts estimate that a global temperature increase of 2-3C (3.6-5.4F) would result in the spread of malaria and an estimated 48,000 additional deaths among children under the age of 15 resulting from diarrheal illness by 2030.

Stephane Hallegatte, a senior economist at the World Bank, believes this is the first report that attempts to quantify the impacts of climate change on the household level, rather than at a macroeconomic level.

"We are starting from what poverty is today, and what poor people are telling us about what keeps them in poverty, or what pushes them back into poverty once they have escaped," since Hallegatte. "Many of these people are so poor that they have no impact on aggregate statistics, and this is a better approach that allows the focus to be on them."

Advocates working to link development and ways to address climate change have welcomed the report, but not without a grain of skepticism. The head of Oxfam International's Washington DC office, Nicolas Mobrial, used the findings to hold a mirror to the World Bank.

"Unfortunately, there is still too often a disconnect between Bank research and its own practices," Mombrial said. "It is crucial for the Bank to heed its own warnings and support equitable, low carbon development — it must also promote community resilience to climate change through its policies and programs."

Related: If This Part of Antarctica Collapses, Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet

But as international negotiating teams head to Paris early next month for UN climate talks, the hope is that new data from the World Bank and Met Office could help to push leaders to act.

"The development question is at the heart of tensions between countries in negotiations — it's about development pathways," said Heather Coleman, climate change policy manager at Oxfam America. "The timing of this report is obviously quite significant, and it speaks to the deep links between the UN goals to reach zero hunger and the climate change goals."

The Met Office suggests that the critical 2C threshold could still be avoided, but that the later global greenhouse gas emissions peak, the faster subsequent emissions cuts would need to be put in place in order to avoid irreversible warming. The World Bank, likewise, warns that unless world leaders act soon, increases in emissions could limit our capacity to adapt.

"And we will need to act fast," added John Roome, senior director of climate change at the World Bank. "Because as climate impacts increase, so will the difficulty and cost of eradicating poverty."

Follow Eva Hershaw on Twitter: @beets4eva

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