If You’re Poor, Climate Change Is Going To Hurt You A Lot More

As more extreme weather hits the globe, it’s the countries that are least prepared that are already being hurt the most.

If You’re Poor, Climate Change Is Going To Hurt You A Lot More
[Image: Philippines typhoon via Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock]

One of the perversities of climate change is that the rich economies that caused it won’t bear the brunt of its effects. The worst impacts are set to occur in developing countries, where infrastructure is weaker and populations are more exposed.


Sure, climate change is likely to cause economic damage in the U.S. Just look at last year’s $65 billion Superstorm Sandy. But when it comes to actual deaths and carnage, it’s places in Africa and parts of Asia that will be “first and worst.” These are the places in the human firing line.

To get a sense of this, see a new paper from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a London think-tank. It puts some numbers on the inequality of climate change.

Here are some details:

  • Between 1980 and 2013, the 49 poorest countries suffered 51% of deaths (1.28 million) from climate-related disasters. That’s almost five times the global average.
  • From January 2010 to July 2013, the same nations had 67% of total climate-related deaths.
  • The same nations have 12% of the world’s population, but saw 23% of climate disasters from extreme weather.
  • Climate change was caused mostly by developed countries, but they’ve yet to compensate developing countries. The IIED says wealthy states have paid $0.7 billion so far, compared to an estimated cost of $5 billion.
  • The United Nations forecasts global adaptation costs at $86–$109 billion a year by 2015. Vulnerable countries have received $4 billion over the last three years for this purpose.

Developing countries lack “adaptive capacity” because of weaker economies, less technology, and a lack of “delineated roles and responsibilities for implementing adaptation activities, robust information dissemination systems, and equitable access to resources,” the paper says. Less adaptation means higher risks for people and property.

Amantha Perera has more in this Thomson Reuters Foundation piece.

We’ve looked at the unequal impact of climate change before–for example with these strange-looking maps, and this World Bank infographic covering Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. We’re pretty sure this topic will continue to come up–hopefully with a bigger emphasis on solutions to climate inequality.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.