7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Poverty eradication & climate change: Friends or foes?

Poverty eradication & climate change: Friends or foes?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 14:00 to 15:30

Key points

  • Unless development aid is used for policies to prevent climate change, it does not support development. Politicians must move out of their silos to develop programmes that are coherent across policy areas.
  • At least 50 % of future European Commission development aid projects should be dedicated to actions that include a climate change strand.
  • Those most affected by climate change are the 49 least developed countries - that also have the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions and have contributed the least to climate change. They desperately need funds for adaptation, but so far more funds have been directed at mitigation efforts.
  • All governments are looking to 2015, when there will be a reassessment of the Millennium Development Goals and the Paris Conference of the Parties, which will revisit the possibility of keeping temperature rises within 2° C.



Climate change threatens poverty reduction and sustainable development. Failure to reduce the impact of climate change will push an additional 3 million people into poverty in the world’s poorest countries. These are the people with the highest exposure to risk and the least financial resources to protect themselves.

Those most strongly affected people live in the 49 least developed countries (LDCs), although they emit far fewer greenhouse gases because of their low level of industrial activity. Most of the public debate so far has been led by the richest nations and has concentrated on funds for mitigation, which the LDCs say they do not need. Their greatest need is for funds for adaptation, which has been grossly underfunded.

In some African LDCs, the combination of poverty, resource-rich land and bad governance has exacerbated the problem. For example in Mali, where the government is weak, the Tuaregs occupy resource-rich land. However, they have no access to farming land or to water. This is why they joined with outside Islamic forces in the rebellion against the government. While foreign troops have now intervened to quash the rebellion, intervention is costly. These funds could have been used to help prevent the ongoing crisis in the country caused by the effects of climate change.  

The week before European Development Days, UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon stressed that cities are increasingly relevant to climate change, as urban areas emit over 60 % of all greenhouse gases. Massive slums to house growing numbers of poor people are continuing to grow around urban areas. This is yet another example of the need to link development with measures to slow down climate change. Without improved investment in governance and city planning, both poverty and climate change will increase. However, sustainable urban development could help slow down climate change by creating green jobs and building an economy that supports biodiversity.   

Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, was frustrated by human beings’ slow response to the mess they have created. Although we have known for 20 years about climate change, and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report says it is 95 % certain that human activity is responsible for climate change, we still cannot fix the problem.

Speakers agreed that there is no conflict between eliminating poverty and slowing down climate change. While they rejected the term ‘mainstreaming’, they accepted that politicians had to move out of their ‘silos’ to create coherent policies.

The EU’s new budget has a more integrated approach to development aid and climate change. Within the European Commission’s new thematic budget line for development cooperation – the Global Public Goods and Challenges – the aim is to develop 50 % of activities relevant to environment and climate change.

The European Commission has also developed Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), as flagship policies that combine national adaption plans with low emission strategies, linking the benefits with development strategies.

A growing number of projects already unite economic development and poverty reduction with mitigation and adaptation strategies. For example, France is working with the Senegalese government in reforestation projects to fight coastal erosion, improve fish reproduction and prevent the areas from becoming over-salinated.

Future international action is now focused on 2015, when the UN Millennium Development Goals will be reassessed and a new set of goals drawn up. It is also the year for the Paris Conference of the Parties, which will revisit the possibility of keeping temperature rises within 2° C.


The recent catastrophe in the Philippines – super typhoon Haiyan – is a clear example of the effects of climate change and how it can increase the vulnerability of populations. It was caused by the rise in water temperatures in the region and rising sea levels. At the same time, water depletion in Manila is causing the city to sink.