Climate change is deeply intertwined with global patterns of inequality. The most vulnerable people bear the brunt of climate impacts yet contribute the least to the crisis. As the impacts of climate change mount, millions of vulnerable people face greater challenges in terms of extreme events, health effects, food security, livelihood security, migration, water security, cultural identity, and other related risks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amply demonstrated that the most marginalized groups often lack access to the services, resources, and information they need to overcome crises. Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to crises, for example, female-headed households, children, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities, landless tenants, migrant workers, older people, and other socially marginalized groups. The root causes of their vulnerability lie in a combination of their geographical context; their financial, socio-economic, cultural, and gender status; and their access to services, decision-making, and justice. For instance, more than 90% of the estimated 140,000 fatalities in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh were women.
Poor and marginalized groups are raising their voices to call for more ambitious action on climate change, conflict, and other global issues. Climate change is more than an environmental crisis – it is a social crisis and compels us to address issues of inequality on many levels: between wealthy and poor countries; between rich and poor within countries; between men and women, and between generations.
The most vulnerable are often impacted by the costs of addressing climate change. In the absence of well-designed policies, climate actions can place a higher financial burden on poor households; for example, policies that expand public transport or carbon pricing may lead to higher fares or fuel prices which can impact poorer households. Similarly, if not carefully addressed, limiting forestry activities to certain times of the year could impact indigenous communities that depend on forests year-round for their livelihoods. Climate policies need to ensure that people are protected from adverse impacts of climate action.
Communities bring unique perspectives, skills, and a wealth of knowledge to the challenge of strengthening resilience and addressing climate change. They should be engaged as partners in resilience-building rather than simply as beneficiaries. Research and experience has shown that community leaders can set priorities, influence policies, and design and implement investment programs that are responsive to their community’s own needs. Innovations in the architecture of climate finance can connect communities and marginalized groups to the higher-level policy, technical and financial assistance that they need for enhanced development impacts.