Middle East

Unchanging poverty and changing climate

The main takeaway from this year’s Davos conference was best expressed by the US Vermont independent senator and former presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders when he said; “The oligarchs party and the poor suffer.” While some billionaires, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, have been focusing on technological solutions driven by private capital flows by not questioning the role that inequality plays in constraining governments’ ability to respond to climate change in the public interest, Sanders highlighted the wealth inequality on display at the World Economic Forum.

“The oligarchs in Davos party, the poor suffer. While 260 million people throughout the world will likely be pushed into extreme poverty this year – trying to survive on less than $2 a day – over 2,000 billionaires across the globe became $3.78 trillion richer during the pandemic,” he shared on Twitter.

Meanwhile, poverty and financial insecurity are related with climate change. Three of them pose a major barrier to effective action. What Leonardo DiCaprio, Pope Francis and the United Nations Special Rapporteur do on extreme poverty and human rights, are all related, and it is clear that we cannot solve one without addressing the other.

“The world’s poorest communities often live on the most fragile land, and they are often politically, socially, and economically marginalised, making them especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” For example, in Central America, drought and severe weather have caused thousands of farmers and their families, living by the Tisma Lagoon natural reserve in Nicaragua, to head north seeking means of survival. According to author and journalist, Todd Miller, who has written a new book titled, “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security,” climate change is a key factor forcing families to flee from Central America and Mexico — and deadly droughts, hurricanes, floods and mudslides are projected to intensify further in the region as global warming increases, which will hit small farmers especially hard.

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In addition to that, people fear that new climate policies, such as carbon taxes, are increasing their energy, fuel and food bills. Workers in carbon-dependent industries are understandably fearful about their jobs, while big energy industries are making profits day by day. Even though the carbon taxes are extremely frightening for citizens, the implementation of a carbon tax policy can raise significant revenue for countries, if it is effectively applied.

This year’s Davos conference has rightly highlighted the economic harm caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Among the solutions proposed were the need for governments to use, for instance, the revenue derived from carbon taxes to reduce personal income taxes, offset future deficits and invest in clean energy and climate adaptation. A notable example is the implementation of a carbon tax in the Canadian province of British Columbia. In this region, the carbon taxes have been applied since 2008, and celebrated globally as a textbook example of carbon taxation in a sub-state actor, as it covers approximately 70 per cent of provincial Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG). Carbon taxes could eradicate poverty by fighting wealth inequality through right climate policies as Canada’s British Columbia has demonstrated for well over a decade.

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While we are discussing protecting the poor through effective climate policies, this year Davos again highlighted one disturbing reality: “unchanging poverty and changing climate.” Oxfam International reminds us that an individual in the richest one per cent of the world’s population uses 175 times more carbon on average than someone from the bottom 10 per cent.

Clearly, rich high emitters should be held accountable for their excessive emissions and destruction of our young generations’ nature, no matter where they live, in space, or on the beaches of Hawaii.  Yet, it is easy to forget that rapidly developing economies are also home to the majority of the world’s poorest people; and, while they have to do their fair share, it is the rich countries that should still lead the way. Therefore, instead of financing oligarchs, wealthy countries should focus on how to empower poor people, as Sanders pointed out in a smart way in the week at Davos.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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