Social effects of climate change

Social effects of climate change

Introduction 

The focus on the scientific and economic aspects of the climate change debate has until recently overshadowed the social implications of global warming. There is however an emerging literature about the possible social effects of global warming that addresses the risks to health and to particular population groups, and concerns about how climate change is contributing to rising inequality.

Equity and inequality

Concerns about equity and inequality also arise from the effect of various policy responses designed to deal with climate change. As policies are introduced to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the major challenges for policymakers will be the equity implications of their policies. A major concern is that the impact of climate change and associated policy responses on vulnerable geographical areas of the globe and disadvantaged sections of society could be disproportionate, that is, those nations and individuals least responsible for global warming may become the most at risk. Recent reports on climate change are therefore increasingly focusing on the need for social policy responses to mitigate these effects.

Those nations least responsible for the ill effects of climate change are often least able to mitigate the impact of these issues without assistance. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) latest development report Fighting climate change—human solidarity in a divided world forecast that the impact of climate change on the world's poor will have long term consequences:
Failure will consign the poorest 40 per cent of the world's population—some 2.6 billion people—to a future of diminished opportunity. It will exacerbate deep inequalities within countries. And it will undermine efforts to build a more inclusive pattern of globalization, reinforcing the vast disparities between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.

Source: United Nations Development Programme, 'Fighting climate change—human solidarity in a divided world', Human Development Report 2007–08, UNDP, 2008, p. 8. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/hdr_20072008_summary_english.pdf.

The inequity of climate change is increasingly of interest to scientists and social policy researchers such as Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin–Madison who highlights the potential negative impact of some mitigation strategies. In addition, not only is the health burden from climate change itself greatest among the world's poor, but some of the major mitigation approaches to reduce the degree of warming may produce negative side effects disproportionately among the poor. Should they bear the brunt of adverse effects caused by industrialised nations? The potential inequity of the situation looms large and is already a major part of the international negotiations toward solutions to combat global climate change.

Further reading:

United Nations Development Programme, 'Fighting climate change—human solidarity in a divided world', Human Development Report 2007–08, UNDP, 2008.

J. A. Patz et al., 'Climate change and global health—quantifying a growing ethical crisis', EcoHealth, 4, 2007, pp. 397–405.

 


11 September, 2009

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