Climate change impacts everyone. People around the world, as well as animals and ecosystems, can feel its effects through rising temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events and other issues. These problems will only get worse unless things change dramatically.
Today and in the future, however, climate change hits poorer areas harder — both areas within developed countries and entire poorer countries. These communities may not have the resources necessary to protect themselves from global warming’s impacts, which are often more pronounced.
As global temperatures rise, poorer communities will feel their impacts the most. Cities generally have warmer temperatures, and the least wealthy areas of a city tend to be the hottest.
This is partially because the residents of the area don’t have the money to run air conditioners, fans and other cooling equipment. In some places, they may not even be able to afford enough cool water to stay properly hydrated. Poor areas are also likely to have fewer trees, as well as buildings that are made of heat-retaining materials, making it harder to keep them cool.
People who live in poorer neighborhoods are also likely to work outside doing physical labor, which puts them at a higher risk for heat-related health problems.
As the climate changes, extreme weather events are becoming more common and more severe. Scientists say this will likely only get worse.
“Nuisance” flooding, events that don’t cause serious injury or loss of life and occur because of relatively normal weather events, has increased in the U.S. over the last few decades. In the cities with the most nuisance flooding, it occurred between 325 and 925 percent as much.
Global warming also leads to increased incidents of drought, wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes and winter storms. While these events are disastrous no matter where they strike, poorer areas are less likely to have the resources to recover from them.
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In poorer countries, agriculture is often a major part of the economy and the largest source of income for a large part of the population. It’s also susceptible to changes in weather and other environmental factors.
As soil becomes less fertile and crops either due to increased heat and other changes, those that rely on agriculture will experience a loss of income, and the rest of the world will experience higher food prices.
For poor families, even those in developed countries, rising food prices have a bigger impact than on wealthier families. Food is a somewhat fixed cost, so they end up spending a bigger portion of their budget. As they need to spend more on food, they have less to spend on other things as well.
A lacking food supply will certainly lead to health problems in developing countries. Water scarcity could also lead to lower quality drinking water and water used for hygiene. A report by the World Bank found that even a small increase in global temperature could increase the incidences of malaria by as much as 5 percent.
People in poorer countries pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket. In low-income countries, almost half of medical expenses are paid out of pocket, while in high-income countries, that number is 15 percent.
This means that for poorer people, medical expenses take a bigger portion of their budget. As health problems become more common, they’ll have to pay these expenses more and more often.
Another more indirect impact of climate change on poorer countries relates to how it contributes to conflict. Scarcity of food, water and other resources can lead to clashes over these supplies, as well as access to land. Increased poverty also tends to lead to less stability.
According to several studies, the drought that occurred in Syria from 2006 to 2011 played a part in the civil war there. The drought forced people out of rural areas and into urban ones, which contributed to the war.
This instability can cause a cycle that makes it harder for these nations to deal with the effects of climate change. Infrastructure becomes damaged, and resources need to be devoted to mitigating the impacts of war, rather than those of global warming.
What to Do
Although poorer countries contribute less to global emissions, they feel the consequences more strongly. This means richer countries have more of an ability to help preserve the environment.
Poor countries may need help from wealthier ones in dealing with the impacts of climate change. They also need help supporting sustainable economic growth to get themselves out of poverty, improve their quality of life and be able to offer more resources to solving climate change issues.
If low-income countries pull themselves out of poverty, though, their emissions will likely rise as they begin to become more industrialized. This means wealthier countries will need to make significant cuts to their emissions to allow for growth in poorer nations.
Climate change will impact lower-income communities more heavily than wealthier ones, but it’s a global issue. Countries with more resources will have to pitch in to help poorer nations deal with the effects of global warming and slow the rate of global emissions.