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Poorer nations carry climate change burden

September 28, 2017

A flood of climate refugees could be imminent unless the richer nations do more to help poorer ones combat global warming, argues an IMF report.

Usbekistan Aralsee Symbolbild Klimawandel Dürre
Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/G. Pohl

The international community must do more to help low-income countries cope with the climate change, says the IMF in its "World Economic Outlook" report to be released next month.

"Advanced and emerging market economies have contributed the lion's share to actual and projected warming," argues the IMF. "Helping low-income countries cope with its consequences is both a moral duty and sound global economic policy."

Low-income countries bear the brunt 

With an unprecedented increase in global temperatures over the past 40 years, and significant further warming predicted unless greenhouse gas emissions are massively reduced, low-income countries are set to suffer the worst of the extreme droughts, floods and rising sea levels that will result – even if their emissions are relatively low.

"The Earth's warming affects countries very unequally," say the authors of the report in the IMF Blog. "Even though low-income countries have contributed very little to greenhouse gas emissions, they would bear the brunt of the adverse consequences of rising temperatures, since they tend to be situated in some of the hottest parts of the Earth."

Indonesien Hochwasserschutz in Jakarta
Jakarta, Indonesia, is sinking due to rising sea levels caused by global warmingImage: Getty Images/E. Wray

Countries in Africa, Asia and Central and South America will feel the effects of rising temperatures more than most.

The IMF notes that a 1 degree increase in temperature in a country with an average annual temperature of 25 degrees – such as Bangladesh or Haiti – will initially reduce per capita output by up to 1.5 percent, a level that will rise to 10 percent by the end of the century if there are not adequate global efforts to curb emissions.

Economies in hot countries will be effected on various levels, including lower agricultural yields, reduced worker productivity, slow investment, and damaged health. Close to 60 percent of the world's population currently resides in countries that are vulnerable to such climate change consequences – a number that's projected to rise to 75 percent by the end of the century. 

Climate change-induced conflict and migration

If higher temperatures potentially cause more natural disasters, this will also fuel greater conflict and migration, argues the IMF.

"The cross-border spillovers from these impacts of climate change in vulnerable countries could be very sizable, and advanced economies will not be immune either."

Nonetheless, the report also cites research that shows that migration is largely limited to those who can afford to travel; and that people in low-income developing countries are generally trapped amid weather disasters triggered by climate change.

Kenia Afrika Arid Turkana Dürre
The Turkana people of Northern Kenya are nomadic pastoralists whose stock – and livelihood – is rapidly dying due to drought exacerbated by climate change.Image: Andrew Wasike

"Given the constraints faced by low-income countries, the international community must play a key role in supporting these countries' efforts to cope with climate change—a global threat to which they have contributed little," say the IMF.  

The report notes that low-income countries would need to increase public spending by up to 30 percent of GDP if they are to achieve attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to combat climate change. Most don't have the money.

"Low-income countries also often lack the institutional setting, administrative capacity, or political stability to implement appropriate macroeconomic policies or adaptation strategies," says the IMF.

So while Germany last year committed to helping poorer countries transform their national climate action plans into concrete strategies, the IMF says richer countries that contribute substantially to greenhouse gas concentration must contribute more to climate adaptation costs throughout the world.

"Going forward, only a global effort to contain carbon emissions to levels consistent with an acceptable increase in temperature can limit the long-term risks of climate change."

Stuart Braun | DW Reporter
Stuart Braun Berlin-based journalist with a focus on climate and culture.