After one of the strongest El Niños ever recorded, Ethiopia has suffered erratic rains and severe drought in many regions, putting millions of people at risk of hunger and diseases. Abdi (pictured) brought what remains of his livestock here in search of water, about 30 kilometres from his home in an adjoining district, because there is no water there and his herd is dying. ‘I used to have 300 sheep, goats, and camels, now I have about 25 camels,’ he says. (Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam)
Updated on 11 February 2020
Climate change hits poor communities first and worst
Loss of livelihoods and hunger
Currently, 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, but ironically, 80 per cent are smallholder farmers: fisherfolk, pastoralists and landless farmers who produce food. Wild weather and unpredictable seasons are changing what farmers can grow and affecting their livelihoods. The poorest are often the most vulnerable and least prepared to cope with the effects of climate change. Ethiopia is one of them. More than 80 per cent of the population depend on agriculture. Erratic rains and severe drought have been putting millions of people at risk of hunger and disease.
However, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, travelling by car, ship and plane, etc.; hence, poor communities around the world are the least responsible for emissions. According to Oxfam’s report, the poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for just 10 per cent of carbon emissions, despite being the most threatened by severe weather shocks linked to climate change. Climate change hits poor people first and worst. It's a climate crisis that deepens poverty and exacerbates injustice.
Who takes the heat?
In December 2019, Oxfam released a report titled ‘Forced from Home’ as world leaders gathered in Madrid for the UN Climate Summit. It revealed that over 20 million people a year – one person every two seconds – were internally displaced by extreme weather disasters between 2008 and 2018. While no one is immune, Oxfam’s analysis shows that people in poor countries, who bear least responsibility for global carbon pollution, are most at risk.
The report also shows that today, people are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by cyclones, floods and wildfires as they are by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and three times more likely than by conflict. This group of ‘climate refugees’ is mainly from developing countries such as Guatemala. A climate-fuelled El Niño period has brought the country nearly six years of drought. A recent Oxfam study estimates that nearly 80 per cent of the corn and bean harvest was lost in Guatemala in 2019, while almost 70 per cent of children in the worst hit areas in the country suffered from malnutrition.
People from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), particularly those from the Caribbean and the Pacific, face the greatest risks. Seven of the 10 countries with the highest rates of displacement from extreme weather disasters over the past decade are classified as SIDS – a recognised grouping in UN climate and environmental negotiations.
|Country||Key cause of displacement||Percentage of population newly displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather events on average each year between 2008–18||Emissions per capita (global rank out of 193 Member States of the UN as of 2014)|
|4||Philippines||Tropical cyclones, floods||3.5%||170|
|5||Saint Maartens||Tropical cyclones||2.8%||(No data)|
|7||Fiji||Tropical cyclones, floods||1.5%||190|
|8||Sri Lanka||Floods, storms||1.4%||147|
Oxfam advocating for climate justice
In 1992, the world took its first steps towards addressing climate change by holding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro, its first summit-level meeting. Then in 1995, an annual meeting, the Conference of Parties (or COP), was convened to assess the progress made in the fight against climate change.
Oxfam first proposed to fight climate change at the Bali Climate Change Conference in 2007. Since then, Oxfam has continued to look into issues like climate change and how it relates to poverty, as well as climate justice. In order to prevent the impacts of climate change from devastating poor countries and communities, ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ must be carried out hand in hand.
Reducing the threat of climate change for vulnerable countries
Even if the world stops emitting greenhouse gases right now, the cumulative effects of the pooled greenhouse gases would still warm the earth and bring about severe negative impacts.
Therefore, poor communities have an unparalleled need to adapt to climate change. Adaptation implies a transformation in farming methods and the means of income generation, and reducing the direct impact on livelihoods from an unpredictable climate:
Rich polluting countries must deliver the promised amount of funding to support emission reductions and adaptation in poor countries
In addition to more ambitious emissions cuts, rich polluting countries have promised to help poor countries and communities adapt and take the measures needed to help them remain in their communities and on their land. Regarding this, at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, developed countries agreed to mobilise US$100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 to help poorer nations deliver mitigative and adaptive measures through technological development and capacity building to cope with the impacts of climate change.
However, Oxfam estimates that high-income country governments delivered less than US$10 billion in net support for climate adaptation in between 2015 and 2016. Taking this into account, Oxfam’s analysis suggests that the 48 least developed countries are receiving as little as US$2.4 to $3.4 billion per year in actual funding for adaptation – equivalent to around US$3 per person. It remains a long way short of delivering the promised US$100 billion a year to help poor countries avoid future emissions and adapt.
To ensure that poor communities affected by the climate crisis receive the necessary support, governments should:
- Establish a new finance facility to provide an assessment of global financing needs, clear criteria for disbursing funds and agreement on new and innovative ways of mobilising additional funds, such as through a ‘climate damages tax’ on fossil fuel extraction, as well as debt relief in the event of disasters;
- Continue to promote the rights and dignity of people displaced by the climate crisis, and find long-term solutions, including through the work of the Taskforce on Displacement, through national strategies, etc.
|Dec 2019||Forced from Home|
|Sep 2019||Who Takes the Heat?|
|Nov 2017||Uprooted by Climate Change|
|NOV 2016||Climate Finance Shadow Report|
|DEC 2015||Extreme Carbon Inequality|
|Nov 2015||Game Changers in the Paris Climate Deal|
|mar 2014||Hot and Hungry|
The climate crisis and adaptation measures in poor countries
El Niños are getting stronger due to climate change. With one of the strongest El Niño ever recorded in 2016, irregular weather patterns in Ethiopia’s Somali region have made rainy season more erratic and unpredictable. Some villages have even seen no rainfall in over a year. Oxfam has been working with communities since 2011 to provide emergency water in the worst affected areas, to introduce disaster risk reduction measures and work with affected populations to develop their livelihoods and ensure food security. (Photo: Poon wai-nang / Oxfam)
Mako and her husband Mahamud are pastoralist farmers living in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In the past few years, they have been affected by severe drought. Oxfam is working to help pastoralist farmers like Mako and Mahamud to diversify their sources of income and grow crops that are more resistant to droughts. (Photo: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam)
On 14 to 15 March 2019, Cyclone Idai slammed into Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, devastating the lives of about 2.6 million people across the three countries and claiming the lives of over 1,000. Barely six weeks on, Cyclone Kenneth tore through northern Mozambique. Repeated cyclones in Mozambique have caused US$3.2 billion worth of loss and damage – equivalent to 22 per cent of the country’s GDP or approximately 50 per cent of its national budget. (Photo: Sergio Zimba / Oxfam)
After her house was severely damaged by Cyclone Kenneth, Fatuma said: ‘When the winds started, everyone was looking for a tree to hold on to so that you’re not blown away. When the rain hit your face, it was like being hit by a stone. I grabbed my kid’s bag that had a sweater and some clothes because I didn’t want them to be cold.’ (Photo: Oxfam)
Oxfam distributed hygiene items to people affected by Cyclone Idai with partner organisation AJOAGO, a Mozambican humanitarian organisation. As world leaders gathered in New York for the Climate Action Summit in September 2019, Jose Mucote, the Executive Director of AJOAGO, went all the way from Mozambique to bring the voice of the Mozambicans to the world. ‘Every day, we’re supporting people who are already living in extreme poverty and have coped with a higher number of crises over the past two decades. Each disaster is making people poorer by the day and more vulnerable to whatever may come next’, said Jose. (Photo: Micas Mondlane / Oxfam)
‘We spent almost eight days enduring starvation’, Mariana said. In the community of Naranjo in Guatemala, climate change is leaving people with nothing to eat. With no other option, Mariana’s husband and her 20-year-old son walked for 20 days towards the United States in search of work. They had to sell their land and take on debt to pay for the journey. When her husband sends money back, some of it is used to pay off the debt and the rest goes towards the family’s survival. (Photo: Valerie Caamaño / Oxfam)