Adding urgency to the call for bold emissions cuts and a radical rethinking of the global economy, a new report from the World Bank warns that human-caused climate change could push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty within just 15 years.

Entitled (pdf), the World Bank’s study differs from previous efforts by looking at the poverty impacts of climate change at the household level, rather than at the level of national economies.

“Climate change is exacerbating inequality and hurting poor people first and worst.”
—Nicolas Mombrial, Oxfam

Already, global warming is sparking higher agricultural prices; increasing “natural hazards” such as heat waves, droughts, and floods; and exacerbating public health issues, the report states. Without “immediate” adoption of mitigation, adaptation, and emission-reduction policies, the World Bank cautions that rising greenhouse gases—and temperatures—will continue to ravage vulnerable populations, dragging them further into poverty.

The bank’s most recent estimate puts the number of people currently living in extreme poverty at 702 million, or 9.6 percent of the world’s population.

“Poor people and poor countries are exposed and vulnerable to all types of climate-related shocks—natural disasters that destroy assets and livelihoods; waterborne diseases and pests that become more prevalent during heat waves, floods, or droughts; crop failure from reduced rainfall; and spikes in food prices that follow extreme weather events,” it reads. “Climate-related shocks also affect those who are not poor but remain vulnerable and can drag them into poverty—for example, when a flood destroys a micro-enterprise, a drought decimates a herd, or contaminated water makes a child sick.”

For example, the report states that by 2030, crop yield losses could mean that food prices would be 12 percent higher on average in Sub-Saharan Africa. “The strain on poor households, who spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, could be acute,” the World Bank declares. Meanwhile, in India alone, an additional 45 million people could be pushed over the poverty line by 2030, primarily due to agricultural shocks and increased incidence of disease. 

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