Climate Change Could Put 100 Million People Back Into Poverty by Destroying Farming

Not only is global warming disastrous for agriculture, but the consequences are disproportionally felt by the world’s poor.

Workers drag rice plants in a flooded rice field at Karangtinoto village in Tuban, Indonesia, on April 5. (Photo: Aguk Sudarmojo/Antara Foto/Reuters)

Nov 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

The 15-year-long effort to significantly reduce global poverty and hunger that began in 2000—as part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—has gone a long way toward improving life for those living at the most extreme margins. According to a progress update published in September, 100 million fewer people are living in hunger around the world than were in the 1990s.

According to the World Food Programme, the global hunger rate of 13.5 percent could drop to 12.8 percent in 2016. But a report published by the World Bank on Sunday warns that the success is precarious and that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty by 2030. The cause? Climate change, with its disastrous effects on food production and prices; natural disasters; and shifting patterns of disease triggered by wildly changing weather patterns.

“We have the ability to end extreme poverty even in the face of climate change, but to succeed, climate considerations will need to be integrated into development work,” John Roome, senior director on climate change at the World Bank and a coauthor of the report, said in a statement. “And we will need to act fast because as climate impacts increase, so will the difficulty and cost of eradicating poverty.”

Unlike studies that have looked at how climate change will exacerbate poverty, the World Bank’s research is looking at individual households rather than national economies. The data that inform the report is based, in part, on household surveys conducted in 92 countries.

While heat waves, flooding, and disease are and will continue to be acute risks to the world’s poor, the upheaval that climate change will have on agriculture may be the biggest risk of all. According to the report, yields could drop by 5 percent in 2030 and by 30 percent in 2080. Not only are farmers expected to harvest less, but the impact will be disproportionally felt in the poorest parts of the world, where one bad harvest can be devastating.

“Long-term climate change trends are likely to affect agriculture and ecosystems, with severe consequences for poor people and their livelihoods,” the report reads. “These threats will be further amplified by the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, which will exacerbate production and price shocks in the short term, and could sharply increase poverty in the longer run.”

There is hope, however, and just as climate change has shown how it can limit food production, resilient-minded solutions have proved successful too. In Uganda, for example, the introduction of new crop varieties and increased support from the country’s agriculture extension services increased farming families’ incomes by 16 percent.

To keep yields up without further contributing to carbon emissions, similar methods of smarter, more sustainable agricultural planning and farming will be required. Less fertile land could be set aside for carbon-capture projects, for example, or the farmers could break up their monocultures and make room for nitrogen-fixing trees and other beneficial plants alongside row crops that can help reduce erosion, runoff, and the need for chemical fertilizers. The report cites the success of “evergreen” agriculture in parts of Africa, where farmers are “reaping impressive productivity gains of up to 30 percent without the use of costly fertilizer.”