Energy and Development IV

How Climate Change Threatens the Poorest of the Poor

And we continue on the discussion about energy poverty, overall poverty and how energy services can help Africa in particular escape from chronic poverty.

Now I’ve been privileged to be special advisor to first United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and now to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals.

The commitments that were made in the year 2000 to help Africa and other poor regions of the world end extreme poverty. And I have been every day trying as best I can to make the point that ending poverty is within reach. And it should be both a moral and practical commitment for the world.

841In recent years I’ve been emphasizing also the importance of the battle against climate change. And it’s been interesting for me that on occasion I’ve been asked, though less frequently now than say a year or two ago, why am I putting emphasis on climate change, why not continue to focus on poverty? Don’t dilute the message, I’ve been told. When the sustainable development goals were first proposed some poverty activists said, let’s not go there to sustainable development, environment and other issues. Those are not our priority, our priority has to be to end extreme poverty.

Well I want to spend a few minutes in this chapter explaining why that point of view is understandable, but not correct. And indeed once one reflects on the enormity of the burdens that climate change is already imposing on the poorest people in the world and on the devastation that climate change can potentially impose on the poor regions of the world, you come to a very, very different conclusion. And the conclusion is, even if you’re focus is only on ending extreme poverty and that’s a pretty plausible focus of high moral and practical priority, climate change should be front and center of your concern.

I’ll put it this way, there is no way in the world that we’re going to end extreme poverty and no way in the world that if we even temporarily end it that it will stay gone if climate change runs rampantly out of control. If we exceed the 2-degree Celsius limit, if we continue on the business-as-usual path, I shudder for the consequences for Africa.

All of the hopes of the Millennium Development Goals, all of the progress that is being achieved now will easily be swept aside and tragically be swept aside by the consequences of climate change.

842This is not a hypothetical warning. And it’s not one that I make casually or idly or because you’re taking a class on climate change. It’s because I see it with my own eyes and of course it’s not just me, it is Africans who are feeling already the derangement of their climate and the incredibly severe consequences that result from that. It’s quite obvious that if you live on the edge of survival, that shocks can push you right over the edge. And when you see the consequences of a drought such as the Sahel experienced in 2012 and such as is seen by this farmer standing by a dead camel who died of lack of water in Chad and this view, this, this scene has been repeated so many countless times across the region, one begins to understand the reality.

All through Africa and especially through the drylands, which are the most vulnerable part of the world to climate change in this phase that we’re in right now, places that already by virtue of their longstanding climate always have the risk of drought and famine, are being pushed into disasters of increasing frequency and intensity.

843And moreover, because of rapid population growth in these countries, demographic pressures that are rising and rainfall that is declining is cutting these societies. Like the blades of a scissors, they’re caught between these two very powerful trends. And the result is a tremendous amount of dislocation of populations. Here are refugees from the Sahel drought and with the tents set up of migrants trying to escape from the drought in Niger. But this kind of phenomenon of people on the move, trying to survive in the face of ecological shocks is something that we have seen repeatedly and with the devastation in many parts of drylands Africa. Somalia. A country that is so bereft of basic resources with water at the start, and energy resources next, that it has not even been able to maintain a government intact for more than two decades has faced repeated droughts in recent years.
Part of a long-term decline of overall rainfall and because of warming temperatures and overall increase of evaporation of the water and therefore the drying of the soil moisture. In 2012-13, there were more displaced populations. This is a Somali mother and her children that have fled across the border to Kenya. They’re in a refugee camp, waiting for some emergency help. And this massive stream of refugees across the Somalia border to Kenya has been very destabilizing.

We work in northeast Kenya in a village area near the city of Garissa. There is a tremendous increase of violence, of lawlessness, of theft of livestock, of insecurity. And this is the pervasive spillovers when one experiences famine and drought and populations on the move as a result of this.

844This is a map of the United Nations. It’s an unfortunately and increasingly typical map. It shows the extreme drought conditions in two 2011 in Somalia, in the horn of Africa. This kind of map is of the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Assistance, OCHA. And it’s the basis typically of an emergency appeal.

We need a hundred million, three hundred million dollars to help people survive the, just the latest ecological catastrophe. Well the experience is that the world doesn’t respond. Sometimes it’s called donor fatigue, although I’m not so sure how much fatigue you can get if you don’t try very hard.

845But the fact of the matter is that not only are these shocks coming in increasing frequency, but they are not met with the kind of emergency response that is commensurate with the scale of the challenge. Now the climate science tells us that it is these dryland regions that have already experienced significant declines of soil moisture, significant increases of drought frequency and severity.

Declines in many cases of overall precipitation levels. And this is one example of very notable study of a few years ago of changing drought conditions using something called the Palmer Drought Severity Index, or PDSI. And this is showing increasing drought severity during the historical period of 1950 to 2008.

Look at how much of Africa is covered by pinks and reds and purples, signifying a chronic increase of drought severity during this period. When climate models are used to project forward, the likelihood of drought severity, the picture is absolutely terrifying. These models measure estimated changes of precipitation, or projected changes of precipitation. And changes of soil moisture as the result of the higher rates of evaporation and transpiration of water in the soil.

Transpiration means the water that exits the leaves of plants, sometimes the evaporation and the transpiration are combined into the term, evapotranspiration. And what we have is declining precipitation, declining rainfall and rising potential evapotranspiration, meaning that whatever comes to the ground returns as water vapor to the atmosphere much more quickly. And the result is a chronic drying of the soils. And that chronic drying of the soils of course can have devastating effects on crop productivity.

So many studies now take the climate estimates of temperature and evapotranspiration and other climate phenomena, for example, likelihood of heat waves, or likelihood of dry spells and use those data to with the, the randomness and the uncertainty attached to them as inputs to estimates of crop production, through so-called crop models.

And those then give us a sign of where we should worry about changing crop productivity. And again, here is a map based on such a study which starts with the climate change 846models and then feeds them through crop models.

And where you see red, dark red means a decrease of crop production with high confidence of the model, saying that the model is really signaling with very high probability a decline of crop productivity. Or in just a bit lighter red, a decrease with medium confidence. And you can see that a very large part of tropical Africa is caught in that band. Not just tropical Africa, we see that large swaths of South America, of North America, of India, Australia, the Mediterranean basin, are all facing these challenges.

That’s why we’re here trying to understand how to stay below the 2-degree centigrade. But it’s why the idea that climate change is extraneous or ancillary or secondary to the concern about poverty misses the point.

How is Africa going to feed itself in a world of unconstrained climate change? The answer is there is no good answer. This map that you’re looking at is for the 2030s. Let me forward towards the end of the century on a business-as-usual trajectory. It’s terrifying. It’s terrifying because many of the food centers of the world show up in bright red. What the models are telling us is that the decline of soil moisture combined with the direct effects of higher temperatures, which by themselves reduce the photosynthetic productivity put in realistic possibility a massive crisis of food production.847

Step back and remind ourselves that we’re at 7.2 billion people now. But the  world population is continuing to rise by 75 to 80 million people every year. And by the 2080s or 2090s, we could well have 10 billion people in the world, facing a food  production catastrophe coming from unconstrained climate change

The point I think is clear, there is no way to fight poverty except by also fighting climate change. We need to put these two core needs and imperatives for the world together. That is the whole principle of sustainable development. We need a holistic approach and it is only by a holistic approach that we can find our way through this very serious bottleneck. If we do so, there is high potential at the other end with all of our technologies the ability to escape from poverty is in hand, but only if climate change is brought under control.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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