How to tackle climate change impacts in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction is becoming a major and pressing concern in many parts of the world.
Having moved from the realms of environmental debate to major development fora, climate change was billed in the recent UK International Development White Paper as the ‘biggest threat facing the world’ (DFID 2006). While efforts to mitigate the rate and extent of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions are a crucial component of our response, two driving factors are clear. First, that whatever stabilisation or reduction in emissions we achieve, we are already bound into some change by existing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations locked into the system. Second, anomalous and extreme weather events have increased in recent decades in ways consistent with modelling projections, indicating that climate change is already happening (IPCC 2007 a,b).
The impacts of both gradual climate change and extreme weather events are already being felt on the ground and are differently distributed across different parts of human society (Smit et al. 2001). Mounting evidence and the prevailing discourse suggests that without dramatic policy interventions, existing and future climate impacts will frustrate pathways out of poverty (DFID 2006; IPCC 2007b). This discourse frequently cites the poorest people in the world as having the least capacity to adapt to a changing climate, lacking the assets, social networks, mobility, and political power, commonly cited as being critical for adaptation (ADB et al. 2003).
However, the assertion that the poorest communities are the most vulnerable to climate change is commonly made as a generalisation, with limited examination of the dynamic and differentiated nature of poverty. This article aims to unpack this orthodoxy through an examination of the climate change and chronic poverty literature, thereby creating the case for a more nuanced understanding of poverty for vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. Through such an understanding, the article suggests ways in which climate change may actually be an opportunity to create pathways out of chronic poverty through targeted efforts to enhance vulnerability reduction and adaptation. Finally, it develops a set of research questions and a vision for the collaborative framework needed to propose a pioneering research and policy agenda on pro-poor adaptation.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.4 (2008) Introduction: Building the Case for Pro‐Poor Adaptation