Climate change’s burden on poverty and inequality

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change due to existing social inequalities.

AS the world grapples with the intensifying impacts of climate change, it is becoming increasingly evident that the ramifications stretch far beyond rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns.

Like a silent disruptor, climate change has intricately woven itself into the tapestry of inequality and poverty, casting its shadow most ominously over vulnerable populations.

The intricate interplay between climate change, inequality, and poverty forms a complex web where the consequences of a warming planet are not distributed equitably.

From marginalised communities struggling to make ends meet to nations grappling with limited resources, the disproportionate effects of climate change paint a stark picture of a crisis that transcends mere environmental concerns.

In this article, we delve into the multifaceted relationship between climate change, inequality, and poverty, shedding light on how these elements interact to create a challenging landscape for those least equipped to navigate it.

In Zimbabwe, the impact of climate change disproportionately affects impoverished communities, magnifying their vulnerability due to limited resources and inadequate infrastructure.

The escalating frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, a direct consequence of climate change, exacerbates the challenges faced by these communities.

For instance, persistent droughts have taken a heavy toll on Zimbabwe's small rural farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.  On the other hand, floods have been particularly devastating, displacing families and damaging property, further plunging these communities into poverty, such ascyclone Idai.  These events disrupt livelihoods and impede economic growth. The inequalities are stark, with economically insecure communities enduring greater hardships.

Zimbabwe's reliance on coal-fired power adds to its vulnerability, as emissions contribute to the cycle of climate change. As the cycle continues, addressing these issues becomes a moral imperative to uplift the most vulnerable, strengthen resilience, and drive sustainable development in the face of a changing climate.

It becomes a moral imperative because the impacts of climate change exacerbate economic inequalities, further deepening disparities. Agriculture, a cornerstone of the Zimbabwe economy, is severely affected by climate change-induced disruptions such as droughts and extreme weather events.

These disruptions disproportionately affect low-income individuals, who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. For instance, reduced crop yields and increased production costs due to changing climate patterns can lead to decreased income for small-scale farmers.

Water resources, critical for various sectors, including agriculture, are also under threat from climate change, potentially reducing water availability and increasing costs.  Public health is compromised by rising temperatures and increased health risks, primarily affecting vulnerable populations with limited access to healthcare.

As a result, the cycle of economic inequality continues, as those with fewer resources bear the brunt of climate impacts, hindering their ability to escape poverty and achieve sustainable economic growth.

These far-reaching effects on inequality and poverty disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.

The relationship between climate change, inequality, and poverty is multifaceted and can be categorised as follows:

Disproportionate impact

Poor communities are more susceptible to climate change due to limited resources and infrastructure. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (resulting from climate change) exacerbate displacement, loss of livelihoods, and property damage, deepening poverty.

These environmental shocks can exacerbate existing social disparities, making recovery and resilience-building challenging.

Economic inequalities

Climate change can intensify economic disparities. Impacts on agriculture, water resources, and public health often harm low-income individuals, reducing income and perpetuating poverty.

Social inequities

Marginalised groups, including women and indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by climate change due to existing social inequalities.

They face barriers in accessing resources and decision-making processes. Several factors exacerbate this vulnerability.

First, these groups often reside in environmentally sensitive areas and lack access to resources and opportunities, making them more susceptible to climate-related hazards, such as extreme weather events and resource scarcity.

Second, economic and political marginalisation limits their ability to adapt or recover from climate impacts. Women, for instance, face unique challenges as they are often responsible for caregiving and resource management, yet their voices are underrepresented in climate discussions.

Health and education

Climate-related health issues, such as increased disease prevalence and malnutrition, disproportionately affect the poor.

School disruptions from climate events hinder education and long-term poverty reduction. It also exacerbates gender inequalities.

Discrimination against women in education and workforce opportunities diminishes their capacity to cope with climate impacts.

Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge is valuable for sustainable resource management, yet their rights and perspectives are often overlooked.

Migration and conflict

Climate-induced migration and resource scarcity can lead to conflicts, deepening poverty. Vulnerable populations often lack the resources to relocate or adapt, trapping them in adverse conditions.

Vicious cycle

Climate change can lead to negative feedback loops where environmental degradation exacerbates poverty and inequality, making it harder for communities to adapt and recover.

This cycle stems from various interconnected factors: climate-related disasters can harm livelihoods and infrastructure, further marginalising vulnerable populations and amplifying existing inequalities.

In Zimbabwe, this vicious cycle is evident. Increased aridity and droughts, intensified by climate change, have resulted in crop failures and livestock deaths, eroding livelihoods and exacerbating poverty.

Displacement and property damage due to extreme weather events like floods further worsen the situation. Such impacts hit impoverished rural communities hardest, pushing them deeper into poverty.

In turn, limited access to resources hampers their ability to adapt, reinforcing the cycle.

It is from this context that we must understand that the tale of climate change and its far-reaching consequences is not one of mere environmental transformation but a narrative of societal transformation.

The impacts reverberate through the intricate fabric of inequality and poverty, exacting a disproportionately heavy toll on those who are already marginalised.

The disparities and vulnerabilities laid bare by this crisis are undeniable. This highlights the urgent need for addressing climate change as a key component of inequality and poverty reduction strategies in Zimbabwe and beyond.

Addressing climate vulnerabilities should not be limited to reducing carbon emissions by corporations. Efforts to address climate-related vulnerabilities must prioritise inclusivity and empowerment.

Strategies should aim to enhance access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for marginalised groups. Furthermore, ensuring their active involvement in decision-making processes is crucial for developing effective climate adaptation and mitigation strategies that are equitable and sustainable.

As we navigate the complexities of a warming planet, it is imperative that we address the intertwined issues of climate change, inequality, and poverty with a sense of urgency and equity.

By working collectively to amplify the voices of the vulnerable, implementing inclusive policies, and fostering global cooperation, we can endeavour to rewrite this narrative, forging a path towards a more just and sustainable future for all.

  • Tazvivinga is a development economist passionate about assessing the costs and benefits of climate policies. Kahlane is an economist who holds a deep passion for implementing gender-sensitive approaches to effectively tackle the challenges posed by climate change. — [email protected]. These weekly New Perspectives  articles,  published in the  Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge,  an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852


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