Climate change, a key challenge for the attainment of MDGs

As 2012 has seen record-breaking temperatures across the US, climate change and its collateral damages are getting harder to avoid. This is even truer for developing countries. So to what extent is it affecting them and what are the consequences for the global development agenda?

How is climate change affecting developing countries?

Climate change effects can be observed through different forms and at different time and space levels. They are particularly hitting developing countries and LDCs through the following events:

  • Longer droughts and/or more frequent floods according to the concerned area
  • Increased water-stress
  • Expanding parasites range
  • Crop decline and increase of arid and semi-arid lands
  • Sea-level rise threatening low-lying areas like deltas and small-island states
  • More frequent tropical storms due to warmer ocean temperature
  • Higher risks of social conflicts over natural resources and land use and increasing number of climate-refugees

Unfortunately, given the amount of greenhouse gas emissions already emitted these effects are expected to amplify over time due to positive retroactions – i.e. mechanisms triggered by climate change and amplifying climate change in return, following a cyclic pattern.  Considering this, they need to be addressed as soon as possible in poverty-reduction strategies through an adaptation process, aiming at merely preparing population to face these inevitable effects.

Why are LDCS particularly vulnerable to climate change?

Three factors are making LDCs particularly vulnerable to climate change, namely:

  • Their low adaptive capacity:

This factor is the result of various parameters including the poor and/or lack of infrastructures (in terms of housing, energy, health and emergency), low human capital (in terms of education and personal security), low technological development and low institutional and social capital (in terms of governance and decision-making).

  • Their high exposure :

Africa, Asia and Small Island States are particularly hit by climate change because mainly located in the tropical areas of the world which are subject to intense climatic activity (drought, flood, heat, hurricanes, monsoon, El Niño…). High mountain regions depending on glaciers are also particularly vulnerable to climate change as their balance is tightly linked to hydrological cycles, atmospheric dynamics and thermal characteristics.

  • Their high sensitivity:

Climate change-induced events are generally directly felt by LDCs population with immediate consequences in terms of victims, damages and costs determined by the two previous factors.

What is the link between MDGs and climate change?

Climate change directly affects four key components of poverty-reduction strategies, namely: water, food, energy and human securities which compose the basis of Millennium Development Goals or at least play a role in their respective achievements. Water security is a perfect example of climate change multi-sectoral nature. Although it is targeted by MDG#7 (drinking water and sanitation), it plays a prominent role in the achievement of:

  • MDG1 (end poverty and hunger): irrigation and food production are directly dependant on water quantity, quality and availability;
  • MDG2 (universal education) and MDG3 (promote gender equality and empower women): water chores are mostly borne by children and women, preventing them from going to school or attend other activities (paid-job, community implication). With increased water stress, women and children are likely to be required to spend even more time to fetch water because of further or deeper water sources;
  • MDG 4, 5 (child and maternal health) and 6(combat diseases): access to water in sufficient quantity and of good quality is a primordial health factor, including in terms of prevention and hygiene;
  • MDG9 (infrastructures): basic infrastructures like hospitals and schools are highly dependent on water accessibility to function correctly.

Therefore, a holistic approach should be set as a priority in poverty-reduction strategies by not only considering climate change in the perspective of environmental sustainability, embodied by MDG7, but by making a mainstream implementation at all MDGs levels to enable the emergence of effective adaptation and sustainable development.

Written by:

Maeva Johanna Charles
(MDG #7 Team Leader; Environment & French Translation)