A Hypothesis of Hope for the Developing World

By Dar, William | UN Chronicle, September 2009 | Go to article overview

A Hypothesis of Hope for the Developing World


Dar, William, UN Chronicle


About 99 per cent of climate change casualties take place in the developing world. While economic growth and development are priorities in all countries, the needs in developing and least developed countries are on a different scale altogether. Developing countries are constrained by their particular vulnerability to the impacts of fickle weather and climate. The poor in these countries are at a higher risk to future climate change, given their heavy dependence on agriculture, strong reliance on ecosystem services, rapid growth and concentration of population and relatively poor health services. Add to this gloomy scenario insufficient capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, inadequate infrastructure, meagre household income and savings and limited support from public services and you have a veritable time bomb ticking away.

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Climate change, if left unchecked, will worsen food insecurity. Millions of people in countries that suffer from food insecurity will have to give up traditional crops and agricultural methods as they experience changes in the seasons that they have taken for granted. The vicious circle of reduced crop yield, resulting in lower income and fewer resources for the following year's planting season, leads to the poor becoming poorer. So what does that imply for about 1.5 billion people, nearly 60 per cent of the workforce in developing nations, who are engaged in agriculture? Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of the Gross Domestic Product in developing countries, even a small percentage of loss in agricultural productivity could snowball into a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial one. And of all the potential damages which could occur from climate change, the damage to agriculture could be among the most devastating.

Climate change also threatens poverty reduction because poor people depend directly on endangered ecosystems and their services for their well-being. They also lack the resources to adequately defend themselves or to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. And more importantly, their voices are not sufficiently heard in international discussions, particularly in climate change negotiations.

As a result of global warming, the type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather, such as tropical cyclones, floods, droughts and heavy precipitation, are expected to rise even with relatively small increases in average temperatures. New climate studies show that extreme heat waves are likely to become common in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the twenty-first century. Given the fact that 2 billion people already live in the driest parts of the world where climate change is projected to reduce yields even further, the challenge of putting enough food in 9 billion mouths by 2050 is daunting!

Unhindered climate change has the potential to negatively impact any prospects for sustainable development in developing countries. As rural communities across the developing world feel the pressures of climate change, high food prices and environmental and energy crises, never have new knowledge, technologies and policy insights been more critical.

A conducive and comprehensive policy environment that enhances opportunities for smallholders, given the climate change scenario, needs to encompass all levels: farm, regional, national and global. It must include adaptation strategies, more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for small farmers.

Adaptation to climate change needs to be integrated into developmental activities. Policies on adaptation should include changes in land use and timing of farming operations, adaptive breeding and technologies, irrigation infrastructure, water storage, and water management. In addition, long-term weather forecasting, dissemination of technology, creating drought and flood-resistant crop varieties, will require national and international planning and investment. …

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