The impact of climate change on the developing world

Climate change is a problem that has mostly been created in developed nations and exported to the developing world. DiA blogger Adam Routledge explores the challenges facing developing countries

flood india

Flooding is becoming more common due to climate change. Photo by barry.poussman

The effects of the rapid alteration of our climate vary across the world. There’s no doubt that the weather in the UK has become more sporadic in recent years: colder and more dramatic winters than previous decades; more frequent floods with greater ferocity. This, however, is little compared to the impact that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, on parts of the developing world.

Humankind has faced major challenges before, the last Ice Age or the “Black Death” plague spring to mind, and there is no doubt that humankind is still here and flourishing. It is our ability to adapt that allows this continuation, but different societies are able to adapt to a greater or lesser extent, and those in developing countries are typically less flexible in their adaptive capabilities.

What’s ironic is that as developing nations prosper and contribute more and more towards climate change themselves, they are also its greatest victims.

Lord Stern’s well-known 2006 report argued that a 2 degrees celsius rise in global temperatures as a result of the continuing rise in Co2 emissions would cost the world 1% in GDP. In 2007, an IPCC report was published stating that between 75 and 240 million people will be “exposed to increased water stress due to climate change” by 2020 in Africa alone, whereas freshwater availability is projected to decrease around Asia by 2050.

So how are people in developing nations approaching these natural disasters which appear to be occurring with ever-increasing frequency? Housing in developing nations is often less permanent and less able to resist flooding, mudslides, fires or rapid change in temperatures. Approximately 36 million people around the globe have been displaced as a result of major natural disasters in 2008 alone.

Farming will be affected by increased salination. Photo by A.Davey

Farming will be affected by increased salination. Photo by A.Davey

Bangladesh represents a solid example of this irony; it is a nation which is at immediate risk of disappearing under rising sea levels, while its citizens contribute significantly to the global manufacturing sector. Moving forward into the future, it will be countries like Bangladesh and its much larger neighbour, India, which call for limits and reductions in greenhouse gases.

Although parts of the developing world are faced with ever increasing desertification, others are experiencing growing salination (increasing salt water), which has a direct impact on the amount of quality farming land available to farmers. This is one of the few issues which directly affects developed countries relying upon developing nations to produce vast quantities of food. If farmland in developing nations is threatened, the consequences will be felt around the world as demand increases and global food prices increase at an even more alarming rate.

In the developed world, climate change is quite legitimately seen through green lenses: the issues presented as an attack on the globe, on Mother Nature herself. But in the developing world the issues are presented in a different guise, the discourse being one of justice. Developed nations have been able to produce and pollute since the 19th century without a word from the rest of the world, but now that BRIC countries such as India and Brazil are becoming the leading manufacturing nations, many view it as deeply inconvenient that climate change has become one of the key global issues for the 21st Century. But anyone can see that the effects are felt most acutely in the developing world.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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