inequality climate change
Inequality and Climate Change

In the first part of this article, I examined how inequality exacerbates the impact of climate change induced hazards. This was done by looking at how pre-existing structural inequality influences the disproportionate exposure and susceptibility of people.

Unequal access to socioeconomic and political resources was pointed out as a major factor that causes poverty. By extension, limiting the ability of households and communities to cope and recover from the impact of climate hazards.

However, there is more to the relationship between the underlying structural inequality in a society and how the people are impacted by climate change.

Exposure and Susceptibility to Climate Hazards

Exposure to climate hazard is said to be the presence of people, livelihoods, infrastructure and other human assets in places or settings that could be adversely affected by climate hazards. While Susceptibility is the likelihood to be affected by climate hazards.

Exposure to a climate hazard increases one’s susceptibility to the hazard. The underlying structural inequality in a society exposes the poor and disadvantaged to climate hazards. Thereby leaving them highly susceptible to its impacts.

This is a sharp contrast to the rich and socioeconomically capable in the society. Access to necessary resources means the rich can afford to minimize their exposure and susceptibility. These resources include physical, financial, social and cultural assets.

Though more often than not, the poor and disadvantaged are more likely to be exposed to climate hazards. This is usually due to their area of dwelling and means of livelihood. But in some cases, even the wealthy and affluent are also exposed. However, in their own case, they have enough resources to reduce their susceptibility to the impact of such a hazard.

Both exposure and susceptibility are regarded as ‘ex-ante’, that is, situations that precede the occurrence of a climate hazard.

So, how do different sections of the society fare in the event of a climate hazard?

Ability to Cope and Recover

Another major aspect of role inequality plays on the impact of climate change is the ability to cope with a climate hazard and also recover from its impacts. This forms a major component of human adaptation to climate change.

As inequality limits access to needed resources, it no doubts reduces the capability of households and communities at disadvantage. Most especially, to effectively cope and recover from the impacts of climate hazard.

As stated in the report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), titled Climate Change Resilience: An Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities; “The persistence of multiple inequalities implies that disadvantaged groups will have access to fewer of the resources required to take coping and recovery measures”. Making it difficult for them to cope and recover.

A good example is the case of a flood disaster. Even though all sections of the population might be affected, the ability to cope and recover from such an incident differs.

Some can easily take practical steps such as creating of drainages and water channels to redirect flood water. For this group of people, recovery is further aided by access to enough physical, financial and social assets.

Whereas, some others are forced to adapt to the situation in ways that are detrimental to their ability to cope and recover from future hazards. This includes, by selling their properties, food, and livestock. And then for some, coping and recovering from such a hazard proves impossible. This is due to poverty and lack of access to necessary resources.

In the end, inability to cope and recover from the impact of a climate hazard further push households and communities into poverty. Thereby, worsening pre-existing inequality.

Vicious Cycle

From what has been examined so far, it is clear that inequality and climate change are locked in a vicious cycle.

On one hand, the underlying structural inequality that perpetuates poverty, marginalization and social exclusion increases the impact of climate change on people. While on the other hand, the impact of climate change worsens pre-existing inequality, pushing more people into poverty.

Therefore, climate resilience which consists mainly of adaptation objectives is the only way to end this cycle.

This involves integrated and coherent economic, social and environmental policies which are part of a broader development plan. They include measures that will eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and provide opportunities for people to diversify their means of livelihood.

Furthermore, this consist of steps that improve access to basic social services and adoption of environmental and resource management techniques.

The relationship between the underlying inequalities in a society and climate change is one that needs to be thoroughly understood. This is important especially as nations strive towards achieving a sustainable development.


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