September 19, 2022

It’s time to advance climate change solutions and human well-being together

by Debbie Aung Din, Christina Kwauk, and Abiba Longwe

Insights_Malawi_family_planning.jpg

Family planning gathering in Malawi
Lindsay Mgbor | Department for International Development

In the 50 years since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment established the important link between the environment and poverty, we have seen remarkable action to protect the planet and improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, these efforts have often taken place independently of each other. Imagine how much more good we could do if the solutions being funded yielded benefits for both climate action and poverty alleviation, while boosting human well-being.

Globally, public and private financing tend to focus on either climate action or improving human well-being—defined as people’s ability to access fundamental social, cultural, economic and natural/environmental resources critical for sustaining a decent living standard and living a life they value. However, addressing climate change without attention to human well-being threatens to cut back on years of development progress because of the impacts climate change has on human well-being.

Those of us working to advance sustainable development are witnessing firsthand how rising temperatures, drought, flooding and extreme weather are rapidly rewinding hard-won progress in poverty eradication, human development and gender equality.

For instance, heat waves and dry spells in Bangladesh are threatening natural resource–based rural livelihoods and creating economic insecurity, which can contribute to increased rates of child, early, and forced marriage and unions, speeding girls’ transitions to adulthood and ending their formal education.

And In Malawi, where most people experience poverty and nearly one-third experience extreme poverty, climate change has exacerbated poverty, particularly for women, in recent decades as increasing temperatures and intense rain lead to both drought and flooding. Combined, these have resulted in shorter growing seasons, poor crop yields, food shortages, hunger and the spread of waterborne diseases. In addition, increasingly devastating seasonal flash floods disrupt learning for students as classrooms are used as shelters for displaced people. And intensified climate hazards often exacerbate child labor, especially for children from under-resourced families.

We know that there are many readily available and financially viable technologies and practices that offer proven, substantial benefits not only for climate but also for livelihoods, health, food security, education, gender equality, and energy. Funders, philanthropies and decision-makers can help to ensure a brighter future for people and the planet by directing more financing to fund climate solutions that can also be transformational in alleviating poverty and increasing resilience, especially in frontline, climate-vulnerable countries and communities that have contributed the least to the climate crisis while being impacted the most.

For example, improving agriculture and agroforestry could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by a hefty 277.6 gigatons between 2020 and 2050. At the same time, it could improve food security and access to water and strengthen resilience to economic shocks.

Similarly, fostering equality—specifically, rights-based, voluntary family planning and 12 years of high-quality, universal education—enables women to have more time, skills, and other resources to participate in climate solutions and to engage in productive, income-generating work, including in the green economy. Climate solutions that foster equality can advance human well-being in areas such as maternal and child health, nutrition, gender equality, and resilience. Estimates show that one outcome of fostering equality, slower population growth, could lead to a reduction of almost 70 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions at a global level between 2020 and 2050.

Climate financing needs to reflect the reality that climate change, poverty, and human well-being are interconnected by taking a systems approach and focusing on synergistic solutions. For example, support for the world’s 500 million smallholder farm families at the epicenter of poverty and climate change that makes soils, lands, trees, and water more productive could boost income and simultaneously sequester carbon.

As practitioners who work to enhance human well-being, we see a growing nexus among climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and poverty reduction. We can make much more progress by investing in climate change solutions that do double duty as strategies for improving human well-being. And donors and innovative finance structures can better meet the needs of people in countries most impacted by the climate crisis by supporting low-carbon pathways to development that also boost human well-being.

Debbie Aung Din. Christina Kwauk, and Abiba Longwe are members of the Drawdown Lift Advisory Council.

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