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Contributions of the Needy: The Social Dilemma to Fight Against Climate Change

Centuries of damage, can't be undone overnight. However, if everyone bands together to make a change, things can be fixed. But is every person in a position to reduce carbon emissions and how is poverty inextricably linked to climate change?

Human activities began altering the earth a little over 11,000 years ago. Although it was not until the advent of the nuclear age in 1945 had we posed a real threat to the environment. Disposing of toxic waste with little to no care of its adverse effects, rapid industrialisation, and overpopulation were some of the key starters of this extreme pollution domino effect. By the 1970s, scientists began to grow concerned about the continuing trends and what this means for the future of planet earth.

We already see the effects in terms of rising sea levels, dangers to food security, extreme weather conditions and the reduced number of natural sanctuaries which is why reducing our carbon footprint is fundamental to preserving a planet in which all organic beings can thrive. Is this threat evenly distributed though? And can it be evenly tackled?

Poverty and its links to climate change

In recent times, going green has been linked to luxury and developed nations, as it is arduous for people below the poverty line to be spending essential funds on a greener alternative. Over two-fifths of the world's population (3,293 million people) are living under $5.50 a day, which takes away a large chunk of people who are contributing to reverse climate change, but while these people struggle to make ends meet we cannot expect contributions on their behalf. It is estimated 100 million people living in developing countries could be pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030.

Some cities, such as Jakarta, have proposed a “managed retreat” to avoid unanticipated displacements. The Indonesian capital, which has a population of more than 10 million, has decided to relocate to the North of the country instead of trying to alleviate the climate risks its facing. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people from the city, particularly those living in slums, have already been displaced by storms and sea level rise.

Adding to the current strain on the planet, in some environments, poverty itself can accelerate climate change due to unsustainable cost-cutting activities. Increased natural disasters and displacement due to adverse weather such as hurricanes, wildfires droughts etc. can, in turn, threaten these communities further and shove them deeper into conflict, hunger and poverty. All these occurring simultaneously put the impoverished into a vicious cycle which exposes them to extensive climate-related threats with no means to make a change.

The threat on a national level

What about the developing nations and their contributions?

Research has shown that developing countries and their governments are struggling, just like their people. They simply can not afford to go green, which is why at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), nearly 200 countries pledged to set up a 'loss and damage' fund which assists vulnerable countries affected by climate change. Even though developing countries have welcomed the initiative, they are not satisfied with the level of commitment that poor countries have shown towards cutting down their CO2 emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. How plausible are the demands? Their fewer resources and weaker infrastructure make it extremely difficult to make significant contributions or opt for greener alternatives, at the same time being fraught with other more pressing issues, climate change gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list.

However, in the wider picture, developing nations have lower emissions but face the brunt of a hotter climate. Whereas just the top 1% of the world population is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus instead of poverty-stricken people, rich countries have a moral obligation to aid developing nations financially and help them overcome the burden of climate change. Which seems to have many people in agreement.

"It’s a result of the moral obligation of the developed country whose economy has been built from the burning of fossil fuels. So it is their moral responsibility to address the climate crisis that they have created in the first place.” Said Sandeep Chamling Rai, senior adviser at the World Wildlife Fund.

What is being done to support developing countries?

At the Copenhagen summit in 2009, numerous wealthy nations promised to supply annual climate financing of $100 bn to poor countries by 2020. This would aid them in slowing climate change and resisting its harsh effects. However, the most that has ever arrived is $83bn in 2020. This does not even begin to live up to the actual estimated amount required, which stands at $2.4 trn annually by 2030 to tackle global warming.

Barely anything effective is being done to help the people who are suffering due to the actions of the careless and privileged. It's now that the poorest desperately need international financial support to keep their heads above the water, in the battle against climate change.

“Climate change is going to amplify the already existing divide between those who have resources and those who do not,” Eliot Levine, director of the environment technical support Unit at Mercy Corps


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