Climate change and the world's poor: looking beyond the usual suspects | Climate & Clean Energy | David Suzuki Foundation
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Climate change affects prices at the grocery store and food security for low-income households.

By Ryan Kadowaki, Senior Science and Policy Coordinator

Crop failure, property loss from extreme weather, higher food prices, heat stress — climate change is clearly posing significant challenges for the world's poor. But when we consider the range of climate impacts that can afflict vulnerable populations, a disconnect can occur. We might assume that such populations are clustered solely in subtropical, lower- income countries and that citizens of wealthier nations would be buffered against similar hardships. The evidence suggests this is not the case. When we consider climate change as having only international poverty implications, we are overlooking our own challenges at home.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this week warns that climate change will create new poverty pockets in wealthy countries where inequality is on the rise. The Occupy movement has cast a scathing light on societal inequality, on the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. It is not only absolute poverty but also relative poverty that is drawing advocates' attention. This further validates the ethos of the environmental justice movement, built on the notion that environmental impacts are disproportionately borne by a society's poorest members.

There are many examples of how poverty can be exacerbated by climate change, even in wealthier countries, and they are clustered toward the base of Maslow's hierarchy. One example that has already received attention this year is homeowners' insurance. Last year's swell of extreme weather events saw a record for insurance payouts in Canada. Insurers are raising premiums in response. This additional cost will make housing less affordable for the poorest 20 per cent, who already spend twice as much of their income on shelter relative to the wealthiest 20 per cent. For some it will mean losing everything in the wake of a disaster. This is a reality already endured by most people in the developing world, where insurance coverage is largely inaccessible.

Another direct impact is the price at the grocery store. Canadian agriculture has already been directly affected by climate change, with both flood and drought conditions over the past five years resulting in decreased production. Such disruptions to food commodities in an increasingly globalized supply chain can have pronounced price effects, as we saw with Russia's ban on grain exports in the face of 2010's epic fire season. The impact on Canadian shoppers is also heavily influenced by climate impacts south of the border. More frequent droughts such as those that have crippled agriculture in California and the Midwest could lead to more food being exported by Canadian farmers to meet U.S. demand, increasing Canada's $1 billion agriculture trade surplus along with domestic prices. Food and price security for low-income households should not be overlooked when it comes to mitigating against climate disruption.

We must also consider health within the umbrella of climate-related impacts that are particularly burdensome to poorer people. With the incidence of heat-related deaths set to increase , those who are least able to pay for adaptive technologies, medical care or relocation are the most vulnerable. This is especially so for senior citizens, who are more likely to succumb to heat-related stress.

While larger Canadian cities have developed adaptation plans, most smaller communities have not. Canada as a whole has a long way to go to ensure it is adequately prepared for the full range of climate change impacts. Focusing solely on responding to major events is not enough. Yes, we need better community planning to protect against river flooding, sea level rise and major storms. But Canada must also start delving deeper into the more insidious, systemic effects of climate change. Are we doing enough to understand how these global changes are likely to affect the lives of all Canadians, regardless of whether they own waterfront property? The communities that understand this and put plan to action are the ones that will be most resilient to future change.

April 2, 2014
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/climate-blog/2014/04/climate-change-and-the-worlds-poor-looking-beyond-the-usual-suspects/

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21 Comments

Apr 29, 2014
11:22 AM

Hello Ryan, I agree that climate change is a serious threat in these days.. It was really pleasant to read your article and get the useful information about climate change. The main requirements in everybody’s life are food and a place to live but increasing the prices on grocery and house insurance is not a good prospect in poor people’s life. We also consider that climate change is making wealthy people wealthier and poor people poorer. Government needs to take an action and work with climate change foundations for the better future of every individual of Canada. I really want to say thank you for your great effort for climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
11:20 AM

I absolutely agree with the opinion of this article. Besides the poor, actually, climate change affects everyone’s life in the economic aspect. Every family has to spend more of their income on food, house insurance and health care. That means we have less money for education, vacation, entertainment and other things that make our life more enjoyable. Climate change is one of the bigger challenges the human being has ever faced. The consequences of climate change are far more extensive than we already knew. Everyone in the world should think: what can I do to protect our planet?

Apr 29, 2014
11:20 AM

Hi Ryan, I agree with your opinion. Our wage had no wage increase for many years but the living expanses shot up more than 50% for the last decade. So my budget is tighter and tighter every year or sometimes, by monthly. It is hard on people like me who is an immigrant and lower earner. I hear on the news that the climate change directly and indirectly are hit people’s life and I feel that.

I thought this is a great idea if it would be possible

Apr 29, 2014
11:19 AM

Dear Ryan, I can’t agree more with your points of view. In fact, extreme weather caused by climate change has exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada. Despite that the rich can afford the increasing extra living costs in Canada such as homeowner’s insurance, grocery prices, and fuel prices, etc., the poor seem to be the most vulnerable population struggling to survive in extreme weather in Canada. More homeless people could be found in the streets of Great Vancouver, which would definitely bring other potential social problems along with additional huge impacts on social costs. Indeed, your articles brought lots of profound thoughts from people and encouraged people to look deeper and behind the problems we just see on the surface.

Your sincerely,

Sally

Apr 29, 2014
11:16 AM

Hello Ryan

I read your article in my English class. It is good that you are thinking about the impact of climate changes on the world, but to my knowledge, climate change is not a new matter. For years and years now, the globe faces this issue and it is unavoidable, but the most important thing is how to manage this issue. We live in one world and we must consider vulnerable nations in other countries, too. The most significant impact of climate change is on people’s behaviours and emotions that many writers ignore. Unfortunately when we ourselves face a problem, we struggle to solve it. Take care Rena

Apr 29, 2014
11:16 AM

Mrs Kadowaki very interesting article. I hadnt consider this aspect of climate change before I read your text. I got a new view on this problem, thats another argument to be more serious about curbing climate change. This point may touch some part of our society more than any other. Cheers

Apr 29, 2014
11:15 AM

Climate change already affects our daily life, both poor an rich. The poor populations are getting worse under this situation. This is a significant challenge for all the world. Governments, communities, and everyone should be warned, all the levels should do their best to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, share good solutions to slow down and stop climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
11:12 AM

Hi Bryan,

I agree with you about the topic that smaller communities have to understand and implement new actions to become more resilient to the effects of the climate change in the future. But something that worried me is that those kinds of communities don’t have enough economic resources to adapt their infrastructure to the new requirements. I know that when we are talking about how to adapt our communities to climate changes is not only think about more budgets. We can start with better education about how our daily and small actions affect in specific our immediate environment.

Apr 29, 2014
11:11 AM

I learned about that climate change already has extreme influenced to not only nature but also our life in the world. For example, the product is decreasing last five years in agriculture due to flood and drought are effected by climate change. I was very surprised about it. After I read your blog, I recognized that the range of impact of climate change would be more expanding in the future. It prevent happening in the future, we need to focus on climate change and try to curb climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
11:09 AM

Among these several factors that were affected by climate change, home price is the most important factor .I think the relevant officials should be more focused on and act more seriously against the rise in house prices.

Apr 29, 2014
11:09 AM

So we have enough arguments to be worried about climate change.Some people think that this is not about reality .The worse thing is about many developing countries that climate change and global warming are not big issues to their governments .We have one planet .We should act globally.

Apr 29, 2014
11:08 AM

Dear Ryan, I can’t agree more with your points of view. In fact, extreme weather caused by climate change has exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor in Canada. Despite that the rich can afford the increasing extra living costs in Canada such as homeowner’s insurance, grocery prices, and fuel prices, etc., the poor seem to be the most vulnerable population struggling to survive in extreme weather in Canada. More homeless people could be found in the streets of Great Vancouver, which would definitely bring other potential social problems along with additional huge impacts on social costs. Indeed, your articles brought lots of profound thoughts from people and encouraged people to look deeper and behind the problems we just see on the surface.

Your sincerely,

Sally

Apr 29, 2014
11:06 AM

Thank you for your great article, it surely opens people’s eyes from a new angle. But as with other problems caused by climate change we have been facing for a long time, I am afraid that many Canadians will only realize the issue and maybe talk about it a little bit, but eventually choose to ignore it and do nothing about it. According to your suggestion which is we should develop plans in community level, I have a concern on how exactly we can build a bridge over the huge gap between wealthy people and poor people to deal with this problem. Because of the conflicts between them are so natural and eternal, when facing the impact caused by climate change, I am afraid that two sides will only point fingers at each other instead of understanding each other and working together in order to take some action to solve it.

Apr 29, 2014
11:02 AM

I agree with your point .Climate change is a significant effect to people’s life, especially for poor people. They would get a big change for their daily life. They can’t afford the increasing payment for house and food. Those things are basic demanding for people’s survival. Who can save them? Gov’t should do something to decrease the effect for people relative to climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
10:55 AM

Great article. I had a chance to read your article in an educational program and found it shocking. I had the climate change idea in my mind as an issue related to natural disasters rather than any other issue, but after reading your article I noticed how climate change has deeply affected people’s daily life such as their insurance costs, grocery purchases and their health which all lead people to fall into poverty. I also found that the smaller communities in Canada where more poor people are living, have no plan for climate change adaptation. Your references to other issues were great help to understand how the system is organised in Canada to monitor climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
10:55 AM

I think this blog is very helpful for me to understand how the climate change impacts wealthy countries, although we thought this is not applicable at first glance. This blog helps me contemplate climate change in depth from different aspects. Besides the above illustrated facts, I think globalization is also an dangerous contributor to threaten our beautiful earth. For example, one country’s polluted water and air definitely impact its neighbour countries. Furthermore, it might impact some faraway continents by the mean of ocean and wind. We’re all in a global ecosystem that is vulnerable to any tiny change, because any tiny change can evolve into enormous change.

Apr 29, 2014
10:53 AM

So we have enough arguments to be worry about climate change.Some people think that this is not about reality .The worse thing is about many developing countries that climate change and global warming are not a big issues to their governments .We have one planet .We should act globally.

Apr 29, 2014
10:47 AM

After I read your article about Climate change, in my opinion climate change is clearly showing significant challenges to the poor. It affects the grocery prices for low income households. Climate change also impacts health.

Apr 29, 2014
10:41 AM

Dear Ryan The poor are always on the front line of disasters.Their lives are vulnerable to every instability,including climate changes.Then the main problem is poverty and inequality,not climate change.I think we should focus on inequality,both internationally and nationally instead of climate change.

Apr 29, 2014
10:36 AM

Your point of view is very interesting because Canadians must have a big picture of the climate change, and how it is affecting not only countries with less natural resources or money

Apr 28, 2014
6:39 PM

Hi Ryan Excellent point about Canada’s poorer citizens. I’d like to see this topic developed further, perhaps at a climate change conference sometime. I think that, as often is the case, the effects of phenomena on the poor are often overlooked or simply ignored, and this time it’s global warming.

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