Relationship between Climate Change and Inequality

3608 words (14 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

08/02/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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To what extent is climate change driven by inequality and what, if any, implications might your answer have for both mitigation and adaptation policies?

 

Climate change and inequality are trapped in a vicious cycle, with climate change exacerbating existing socioeconomic inequalities. Due to climate change, disadvantaged groups encounter unequal losses in terms of their lives and livelihoods. If this situation is not addressed, climate change will continue to worsen inequalities (Colenbrander and Sudmant, 2018). The speed that climate change occurs at and rising levels of inequity are a dangerous combination. These both put pressure on the survival of the poor, particularly the most vulnerable living in climate risk zones (United Nations, 2018). Generally, the biggest polluters in the world tend to be the richest countries, but developing countries are usually the most impacted by their pollution.  This essay will begin by looking at the way climate change and inequality influence one another. It will then discuss different types of inequality, as well as the intersecting vulnerabilities that occur due to climate change, such as economic situation, gender, age, class and race. Finally, it will investigate the implications and what impacts these have on mitigation and adaption policies.

Climate conditions tend to drive inequality, as countries have access to different resources including the correct conditions for agricultural production, oil, coal and fossil fuels (Hamann et al., 2018). This has contributed to some of the inequality present in the world today. Climate change can also be seen to drive inequality, due to the disproportional impact it has on poor and vulnerable groups. This creates a problematic paradox, as the polluters are the least affected, so the negative impacts their actions have on others are not immediately apparent. Thus, the consequence of climate change falls on those who have had the least impact on the climate. It increases their exposure to the hazards, increases their susceptibility to damage, which consequently decreases their ability to adjust (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). Initially, the literature on climate change has been increasingly focused around the physical impact, as “relatively few researchers have turned serious attention, to quantifying the prospective long-term effects of climate change on human welfare” (Skoufias, 2012, p.2). Vulnerable individuals have not been considered even though they are the people most impacted. Consequently, the way climate change exacerbates inequality has been largely overlooked.

Colenbrander and Sudmant (2018, p.1) suggest that “the wealthiest 10% of people may be responsible for over 50% of emissions”. Thus, the impacts from climate change fall regressively onto poorer regions rather than affluent ones (Skoufias, 2012, p.5). Inequality acts as the key driver, with the biggest polluters feeling the least effects. Many disadvantaged communities lack basic resources, so are most exposed to climatic disasters. This puts them at particular risk, because they lack the resources necessary to rebuild their homes and lives (Colenbrander and Sudmant, 2018). A case in point is Cyclone Aila which occurred on the 26th of May 2009 in Bangladesh, 25% of poor households were impacted by this disaster compared to 14% from affluent households (Akter and Makkick, 2013). Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, so land is scarce (Al Amin, 2018). Economic inequality is further driven by climate change, as low-income groups can only afford to live-in high-risk areas increasing their vulnerability to climate change (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). 

Furthermore, when climate hazards occur, the agricultural sector suffers the most, putting poor and disadvantaged groups at risk who depend on agriculture for their survival. Often these groups become climate dependent, as climate conditions dictate the amount of food available to them. Climate change increases crop vulnerability, affecting its availability, the cost of purchasing it and the stability of the system. For many subsistence farmers their susceptibility to disease also increases, due to nutritional deficiencies. This reduces farmers capacities to fight off infections and diseases (Dossa et al., 2016). Typically, disadvantaged groups have restricted access to a piped water supply which can be made worse due to climate change and hazards, such as drought. This forces vulnerable people to drink contaminated water, increasing their susceptibility to diseases such as diarrhoea. Children are most at risk to diarrhoea, as every year over 500,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhoeal disease (World Health Organisation, 2018). This was evident in Bangladesh during the 1998 floods, where communities with lower income, lower levels of education and poor-quality housing had higher reported rates of diarrhoea, in comparison to richer groups of people (Hallegatte et al., 2016). Many of these disadvantaged groups again lack the financial resources to move to a new area to farm and do not have the necessary skills required to change occupations.

Climate change can impact differently on gender increasing existing inequalities (Neumayer and Plumper, 2007). Women tend to have lower asset positions, so have reduced power to access resources which negatively impact them when climate hazards occur. It is common for women to lack basic health care and earn lower wages in comparison to men, showing that their socioeconomic status is lower. Hence in certain developing countries women are stuck in a “disadvantage trap” (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016, p.56). Gender inequality is most prominent in Africa, as the majority of women are employed within the agricultural sector, so are most at risk (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). Women’s vulnerability is not intrinsic due to their gender, but is established in gendered divisions of land, labour, decision making power and other resources (Jerneck, 2018).  Therefore, climate change can worsen pre-existing inequalities, so it is essential that policies aim to tackle gender discrimination. This will ensure that women can access and benefit from the policies put in place (Colenbrander and Sudmant, 2018).

It is critical that mitigation and adaption policies are enforced to benefit all ethnic groups, as evidence suggests that dominant ethnic groups control the use of resources, so decrease the amount that minority ethnic groups can use, this heightens inequality further. Newell (2005) has shown that dominant ethnic groups choose the way that resources are used and managed, often restricting the use for minorities. They become overloaded with contaminated water, unclean air, as well as incinerators and hazardous waste sites, being placed in their communities. This can give rise to double discrimination, as poorer communities are disproportionately exposed to high levels of environmental pollution. Environmental protection measures are also poorly enforced and usually neglected (Newell, 2005).

Disadvantaged groups have limited access to public resources, as well as having less opportunities to engage with and alter policy decisions. Therefore, politics is often blamed for the inequality that is produced due to climate change. Frequently public policies leave vulnerable groups more exposed to climate hazards. Consequently, this poses implications for mitigation and adaption policies. Due to global inequality, there is now a significant contrast between those communities with the capacity to avoid climate change impacts and those who cannot (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). The occurrence of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the US clearly demonstrates this. Within the districts occupied by the poor, less finance was used for protection, compared to wealthier areas which had better protective infrastructure, even though they had low elevation (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). Marginalised people lacked the financial resources to evacuate and move elsewhere, resulting in the poor having higher death rates and more injuries than those living in affluent low elevation areas. This natural disaster made the impacts of climate change visible to the Western world, showing the inequalities present (Kaijser and Kronsell, 2014).

Intergenerational inequality is also a major problem, it is likely that future generations will not have the ability to access finite natural resources including oil, coal, fossil fuels and fertile soils such as we can today. This is likely to have occurred, due to the problem of myopia where individuals and countries prefer immediate gratification, rather than long term gain. Climate change will also cause ecological destruction, which will significantly reduce diversity of animals and plants. If climate change does persist there will be fewer inhabitable areas for the population in the future, putting them at real risk for potential climate hazards (Dossa et al., 2016). A way to preserve the environment is through intergenerational collaboration. Where diverse groups of people share their views and focus on the future to implement a solution to help reduce the negative impacts of climate change. A Native American proverb states, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” (Hoevenaars and Van Beijnen, 2015, p.2). Therefore, to reduce intergenerational inequality it is critical to look further than accusing one another and help to create a mutual responsibility for the future. This will enable a solution to be in place to help solve the most demanding challenges associated with climate change (Davidson, 2017).

 

Many implications have arisen which threaten mitigation and adaption policies. Adaption policies are crucial; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) defines adaption policies as, “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate stimuli, or their effects which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.” Their main goal is to reduce the vulnerability by adjusting to actual negative impacts that arise because of climate change, as well as taking advantage of any potential benefits, such as longer growing seasons. Climate change is a global problem, but adaption occurs on a local level in towns and cities who aim to solve some of their own climate issues (Shaftel, 2019). The main problem with adaption is the high financial cost, leading to ineffective implementation of adaption policies. This is evident in developing countries, who do not reserve financial resources for climate change adaption, this makes self-sufficiency increasingly difficult in comparison to developed countries (Bouwer and Aerts, 2006).

The Netherlands and Bangladesh differ in terms of development; however, these two countries are similar in the sense that they are both flood prone. Thus, they have both enforced adaption policies such as dykes and dams to reduce the negative impacts of flooding (Ploumen and Schlutz Van Haegan, 2015). However, due to the Netherlands being more advanced it has access to better scientific knowledge, as well as plentiful resources to take preventive action, compared with Bangladesh which lacks financial resources to invest in flood prevention. The Netherlands have implemented a successful public warning system, allowing citizens to know when floods are likely to occur, in turn this reduces deaths and injuries in the area. However, Bangladesh has a far less developed public warning system, due to the countries slow economic and technical advancement (Chang, Dawsani and Gearing, n.d.). In Bangladesh, 70% of the population live in rural areas, showing that its warning system is not as efficient due to the slow forms of communication (The World Bank, 2014). Thus, a large proportion of the Bangladeshi population only receive flood warnings 5 to 6 hours before the hazard is expected to occur (Flood World, 2016). Consequently, this only gives the population a short amount of time to respond to the news and to evacuate these high-risk areas if possible. However, for many this is not feasible due to the costs of moving away to areas less at risk, as most of the population in this developing country would not have the resources available to do so. Therefore, flooding imposes a bigger threat to Bangladesh. This example reflects that some adaption policies cannot be effectively enforced due to the poor economic situation for developing countries.

Adaption policies can be problematic for poor countries, as they do not have the resources to adapt to climate change, showing that inequality does not always improve, as developing countries require knowledge and finance to enable change. This is particularly evident in the agricultural sector, as when floods occur many farmers livelihoods are destroyed. Therefore, they need to suddenly relocate to new land or change their occupation altogether. However, this is not feasible for many, as the rural population living in climate vulnerable areas do not have the resources to move or relocate. Although they understand the dangers associated with farming in low lying areas, they do not have the financial means to cover the costs of either a geographical or occupational move, including skills training and housing expenses (Siddiqi, 2011). The main implication associated with this is that many farmers know the dangers, however they are unable to do anything about it. They do not receive information, so are uninformed about potential opportunities in other regions where land is of better quality so less effected by drought. Therefore, policy intervention is necessary to ensure the information farmers receive is more than adequate (Siddiqi, 2011). Consequently, social protection interventions have been designed to enable occupational and geographical mobility to increase. These act as an adaption policy targeted at the rural poor to help reduce their vulnerability to climate change. These interventions allow them to obtain a variety of skills other than farming, including carpentry and construction training, giving them multiple livelihood opportunities (Siddiqi, 2011).

Mitigation on the other hand refers to the reduction of future climate change, Shaftel (2019, p.1) defines it as “reducing emissions of and stabilising the levels of heat trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”. These policies are easier to measure due to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which occur on a global scale. The main aim of mitigation is to reduce the human interference with the climate system (Shaftel, 2019). One successful policy is environmental taxation commonly referred to as the carbon tax, which is currently very popular with developed economies and is a “highly praised mitigation method “(Zhou et al., 2011). Environmental taxation is defined by Lin and Li (2011, p.1), “This tax is levied on fossil fuels and related products such as coal, gas, jet fuel and natural gas depending on their carbon contents in order to reduce the fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions”. It is an economic model used by the government, providing incentives for further efficiency gains, innovation, as well as funding green investment, such as renewable energy (OECD, 2015). Implications occur as many developing countries lack the resources to deal with carbon dioxide emissions. The implementation of the tax will cause intensive carbon industries to relocate to developing countries, which have more lenient environmental control policies. As a result, these developing countries will bear the destructive damage caused by developed countries.  The carbon tax can also be viewed as a tool that widens inequalities, as richer individuals can displace the cost of their environmental consumption. Wealthy people consume more goods and services, so displace the carbon cost and let other more vulnerable groups deal with the consequences of them doing so. Therefore, the wealthy countries remain unaware of the repercussions, contributing to the environmental crisis that is occurring today (Jerneck, 2018).

In conclusion, socioeconomic inequalities are known to decide the disproportionate effects of climate change on disadvantaged people. This essay reflects that both climate change and inequality can be seen to drive one another, creating a vicious cycle. To enable successful adaption and to build the resilience to climate change, development policies, planning and practice need to be continually adapted to create change (World Economic and Social Survey, 2016). Those that have contributed the least to climate change, suffer the most because of it and are increasingly vulnerable. Therefore, the moral responsibility falls on the developed nations to firstly reduce emissions, but also to provide developing countries with technical and financial assistance to aid those most impacted. This will enable successful adaption and mitigation policies to be enforced, to help benefit the environment for future generations both in developed and developing countries (Mitchell and Tanner, 2006).

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