Climate Change and Poverty

The UK government is leading the attempt to 'make poverty history'. I support the need to reduce poverty. But I fear that our efforts will be counter-productive if we see things in the usual way of pouring money and technology into so-called 'under-developed' nations. Because of the effects of climate change (CC).

Climate Change will bring Poverty

Thus, for at least these reasons as well as others that I have not mentioned, climate change is likely to bring poverty to at least the warmer parts of the earth.

Some of these will happen whatever we do now, because it is reckoned that climate change to 2040 is inevitable because of the climate change emissions we (the affluent 20% of the world) have poured out over the past three decades or more.

But the severity of climate change - and thus of the poverty that will be produced - from 2040 onwards depends on what we all do now, over the next few decades. In the developing as well as the developed nations. It is agreed (even by UK government) that we need to reduce climate change emissions by 60 - 80% by 2050 if we are to stave off this increased severity.

Will CC Emissions Reduce or Increase?

If we pour money into the 'under-developed' regions of the world - 'making poverty history' - then it is most likely that a large proportion of that money will be spent on things that increase climate change emissions among developing nations. The people of developing nations aspire to our (Western, affluent) standard of living and material wealth and convenience - to cars, roads, air conditioning, freezers, power-consuming appliances and so on. Much of the money for 'development' will go on road construction to enable and encourage greater car ownership and use.

It is acknowledged by the UK government's Climate Change Programme Review that the main threats to the future are residential consumption of power and road transport, with air transport following close behind by 2030. This is precisely the things that poured money will be spent on.

So, unless we - both affluent and so-called 'under-developed' - are extremely careful in how we 'make poverty history', we will merely generate the conditions among developing nations that will increase climate change emissions over the next few decades (rather than decrease it by 60-80% as is necessary).

And thus climate change will grow much more severe than it needs to, and will engender huge poverty that will undo and completely swamp our attempts now to 'make poverty history'.


I fully support the need to reduce poverty in the so-called 'under-developed' parts of the world, especially by cancelling debts, removing corruption, reducing arms sales, making people more self-dependent in growing their own food, and so on.

But it is ironic that our very attempts to 'make poverty history' could end up completely counter-productive, by engendering in the developing nations a lifestyle that incurs increasing climate change emissions, and the consequent increased severity of climate change that will devastate the poorer parts of the world.

It seems to many that the root of the problem is that we have, and are exporting, a false notion of what prosperity means along with a false notion of what 'development' and progress we should all aspire to. True prosperity is not solely nor even primarily based on money and GDP, and true progress is not tied to technology nor served by science. The Scriptures show a different notion of prosperity as shalom and of progress as the spread of adherence to the Living God.

If we are, and believe that God is, really concerned about poverty and injustice, then let us consider seriously that our selfish, affluent, convenient climate-change-generating lifestyles are to abandoned, not to be exported to the rest of the world under the laudable slogan of 'making poverty history'.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2005.

Created: 3 April 2005. Last updated: 16 May 2011 link to andrew repaired.