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Don’t disregard impacts of climate change on the poor when ending “energy poverty”

This is an important moment for United States leadership in addressing our global energy future in ways that sustain and advance development goals, and that address the challenges of energy access for the world’s poor.

Energy poverty is a major development challenge for the world’s poor. Nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without consistent and predictable access to electricity.

Electricity is the key to business growth and economic development—it is what turns the lights on at night for children doing their schoolwork. When it powers a water pump, it can change or save a woman’s life. It keeps drugs safely refrigerated and health clinics operating throughout the developing world.

No one really debates that energy poverty is a critical problem. But Oxfam also believes that solutions to energy poverty should foster long term opportunities and not exacerbate climate change. Global temperature rise—driven in large part through ongoing exploitation of fossil fuels—increasingly threatens the very communities who most need economic development.

We believe that sound public policy can and should guide us in the direction of a cleaner energy future—one that does not intensify the challenges faced by the most vulnerable among us. Let’s consider the impacts of climate change on people who are poor:

1. Climate change hits the poor first and worst.

In country after country, Oxfam is witnessing what is happening to communities as a result of climate change. Throughout Africa, Latin America, and East Asia, our staff and partners are already responding to the serious impacts of climate change, from increasingly severe weather events to water scarcity. We are working with farmers in Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, and Nigeria to invest in more resilient farming practices to cope with increasingly unpredictable weather trends. We are helping farmers limit their risks with integrated risk management tools, including improved resource management and index-based insurance. We have worked with victims of flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have helped communities recover from severe storms in the Gulf Coast of the United States, Haiti, and the Philippines. All around the world, in farms and in cities, we have seen homes leveled, businesses destroyed, and livelihoods ruined.

The carbon footprint of the world’s one billion poorest people represents just three percent of the global total. Yet people living in developing countries are 20 times more likely to be affected by climate-related disasters—such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes—compared to those living in the industrialized world. In the 1990s alone, nearly two billion people in developing countries were affected by climate-related disasters.

So, in short, we agree with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who said:

“If we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty.”

For the complete article, please see The Politics of Poverty.