Perspective  |  September 22, 2021

Desperate for hope?

Linking human well-being and climate solutions is a way forward

by Yusuf Jameel, Carissa Patrone, and Kristen P. Patterson

This article originally appeared on New Security Beat.

If raging wildfires, extreme drought, and superstorms haven’t made it clear, the latest IPCC report tells us in plain language: the world is poised for worsening climate impacts over the next 30 years. The report’s release—during an unprecedented pandemic and natural disasters that magnify the connections between climate, health, livelihoods, and human well-being—is a grim reminder of the fragility of life on Earth. There is hope, however: the winding links between climate, health, and well-being also present tremendous opportunities. What if, collectively, thought leaders, negotiators, practitioners, and policymakers in the climate, health, business, and international development communities could do a better job of advancing solutions that address these crises simultaneously? When climate, poverty alleviation, and human well-being are addressed together, a vision of a better future emerges like a beacon in the night.

Leaders from high-income countries—the source of most global emissions to date—reacted to the IPCC report with talk of bold actions, better collective efforts, and a renewed commitment toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy.

At the same time, low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and island nations—all of which are extremely vulnerable to climate change—continue to demand compensation, support, and rapid reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized nations. Last month, Muhammad Nasheed (ex-president of Maldives) said that the world should not forget “the fundamental injustice at the heart of this emergency.”

Given that LMICs are the most severely impacted by climate change—a scenario for which they are not responsible—it is important to ask how advocates ranging from youth leaders to government policymakers can build bridges that address climate change and the injustice of the climate emergency together.

People and institutions have historically avoided linking climate solutions and human well-being, but understanding how climate change compounds the risks facing the world’s most vulnerable populations is critical to understanding where the solutions lie. Recognizing this, Drawdown Lift—a program of our nonprofit Project Drawdown—was launched to identify and elevate “win-win” opportunities where initiatives and policies are making that critical connection. For more than three billion people—about half of the global population living in emerging economies—tackling climate change has become synonymous with addressing human rights, justice, and equity.

Centering basic human needs

Projections show climate change impacts to people in LMICs will be incredibly severe—hundreds of millions more people will experience poverty and food shortages, while nearly two billion people could face water shortages. Given emerging economies’ extensive reliance on natural resources and the environment for economic productivity, the GDP of some countries, like Madagascar, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, could shrink by more than 10 percent in the face of climate change. Lacking access to vital resources (including technology and finance), LMICs are already struggling to protect themselves from climate impacts that are likely to intensify

Upholding and protecting basic human needs must remain at the heart of all climate justice work. One year after cyclone Ida hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, tens of thousands were still without access to basic sanitation, adequate shelter, food, and healthcare. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change extend beyond the shock of extreme weather events. Deteriorating human well-being due to climate impacts often leads to more environmental damage. In the Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh—one of the largest mangrove forests in the world—frequent superstorms led to a decrease in agricultural lands due to crop destruction and loss of property. More than 70 percent of people there live below the poverty line and access to health care, clean water and sanitation, electricity, education, and food is limited. Frequent job losses have led to rapid deforestation as people resort to selling timber that can fetch high prices. Due to ongoing destruction of life-saving, carbon-storing mangrove forests by cyclones and timber harvesting, the Bengal Basin—–one of the most densely populated regions in the world—–has become even more vulnerable to powerful storms.

Hard-won Hope

Despite continuous global climate injustices and heartbreaking facts and figures, the IPCC report presents a ray of hope. Through coordinated efforts and cooperation, we can stabilize the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But this isn’t possible without climate-informed solutions that also meet the essential human needs of the approximately half of the global population that live in LMICs.

If emerging economies aren’t supported in their efforts to pursue climate-smart development pathways, they will resort to building and maintaining electricity and transportation systems that rely on fossil fuels. Unless significant financial and technological impetus is provided to the renewable energy sector, most of the new electricity generation in Africa by 2030 will be fossil fuel based which will hinder achieving drawdown. Both the population and economy of Africa is projected to grow at the fastest rate of any region in the coming decades. Access to energy is a fundamental right of all people, and it is the responsibility of historical carbon emitters to support emerging economies in deploying clean energy to meet their fundamental human needs, grow their economies, and boost the health of their populations.

Climate and poverty alleviation champions, local community members and experts worldwide must hold their leaders accountable—across the private sector, government, business, and NGO communities—for ensuring that LMICs have the resources needed to adapt to extreme weather while also implementing climate solutions as quickly as possible. To the high-income nations that agreed to provide $100 billion in annual funding to LMICs in support of clean energy and climate adaptation—where is the money? We should all feel the urgency to support communities bearing the brunt of climate impacts—both in our neighborhoods and across our global community. It’s time to integrate and uplift solutions that address human well-being and climate change, centering those most impacted, as we chart the course for a safer, more equitable future. It’s time to build a world where everyone has the chance to thrive.

Yusuf Jameel, PhD, is a multidisciplinary environmental scientist with experience in water resources, public health, big data analytics, and science communication. As the Research Manager for Drawdown Lift, Yusuf leads research and analysis into win-win solutions that address climate change and improve human well-being.

Carissa Patrone, MPA is a passionate connector who enjoys finding and amplifying the interconnectedness and synergies of all things. Carissa is the Program Coordinator of Drawdown Lift, where she advances partnership engagement and written communications that support the intersection of climate solutions, improvement of human well-being, and poverty alleviation. 

Kristen P. Patterson, MS, MPH is an innovative leader focused on finding equitable solutions to global challenges that improve people’s lives. As the director of Drawdown Lift, Kristen leads efforts to advance climate solutions that improve human well-being and alleviate poverty in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Sources: Amnesty International, BBC, Government of India, Government of West Bengal, GreenBiz, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nature Energy, News Laundry, Project Drawdown, United Nations, United Nations Development Program.

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Profile  |  January 24, 2023
Drawdown Science team member Yusuf Jameel
Drawdown Science Profile: Yusuf Jameel
This article is the third in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Yusuf Jameel joined Project Drawdown in 2021 as a research manager for Drawdown Lift. In January 2023 he transitioned to the Drawdown Science team as associate scientist, data science. A multidisciplinary scientist with experience in water resources, public health, data analytics, and science communication, he’s passionate about finding solutions to climate change and bridging the gap between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Yusuf obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Please welcome Yusuf as he shares his thoughts on growing up on the banks of the Ganges River, enhancing human well-being through the adoption of climate solutions, porcupine hair, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?  A. As a member of the science team, I work on climate solutions using my experience in data analysis, especially on solutions that also address the food–energy–water nexus. I also work on translating the science in a way that makes it widely accessible.  Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join Project Drawdown?   A: Project Drawdown is on a mission to actually address the biggest problem the world is facing today, climate change. I was really impressed by the book. It was the first to lay out that yes, we can address climate change—it's not just about gloom and doom, it’s also about opportunity. Project Drawdown addresses climate in a way that’s multidimensional, promotes the best science, addresses the different audiences, and passes the mic. That really motivates me. Q: What do you consider some of the biggest obstacles to implementing and scaling up climate solutions?  A: First is unlocking the finance to fund climate solutions globally. We need capital from the private sector, from banks divesting from fossil fuels, and we need to invest in green solutions. Another challenge is politics. We need to think more altruistically. This is a global challenge requiring everyone to join hands, yet it has not been the case so far. The good news is, public perception is changing. Hopefully politics will change, and more capital will be funneled into climate solutions. Q: OK, time for a break. What’s your favorite food? A: I would go with my comfort food, and that’s biryani. It’s a big tradition in South Asian countries, and if you ask anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biryani is probably one of the top dishes. It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s just so comforting.  Q: I’m sure you have many, but can you tell us about one superpower you bring to this job? A: I’m a jack of all trades. Whether it’s high-level thinking, brainstorming ideas, or actually doing the work, I’m comfortable doing it all. I’m also adaptable. If a situation requires me to step up and take the lead I can, or I can step back and follow.  Q: What's a childhood experience that relates to the work you're doing today?  A: I grew up on the banks of the River Ganges. Every now and then there would be flooding. As a result, many people would go through an annual cycle of losing crops and be entrenched in a cycle of poverty, unable to get out. This had a profound effect on me. When I started reading about climate change and seeing flooding events become more and more intense, I recognized the need to address climate and development holistically.  Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution?  A: There are so many of them! I really like Distributed Solar Photovoltaics and Reduced Food Waste, but my favorite is Clean Cooking. I think that solution can revolutionize the lives of billions of people in the world, especially young girls. It not only addresses climate but also vastly improves health, addresses gender equality, and opens up economic opportunities. If we can implement clean cooking and distributed solar, we’ll see huge changes in the lives of billions of people globally.  Q: Time for another break. If you were a nonhuman animal, what animal would you be?  A: As a kid I had short hair that was like vertical hair, as if I had had an electric shock. So many of my friends called me Porcupine. People  would rub my hair all the time as it felt like velvet. Now I keep my hair long.  Q: What gives you hope?  A: I derive my hope from two things. First, we’re rapidly advancing technology—a lot of people from across the world are putting their effort into finding and implementing the best and most important solutions to address climate change. Second,  when I was at COP27, I saw that young people are really leading the movement. That gives me hope that we can do meaningful work on this very important but challenging issue. Q: Anything else you’d like to share?  A: I like nature. I especially like mountains. This is something I realized very late in life, maybe because I grew up in cities with very little nature around. When I moved to Utah, I started going to the mountains. I realized how peaceful and how nice it is, and I can’t not talk about it.  As human societies are getting more urbanized,  a lot of us, especially young people who live in large metropolises, are cut off from nature. And I hope they reconnect with nature. We need to appreciate nature and biodiversity much more than we do. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. We need to love it, respect it, and protect it.
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