Energy and EnvironmentThe Risk Radar

June 2019: Climate inequality

Climate change increases inequality. As recent research shows, global inequality is 25% higher than it would have been in a climate-stable world. The economic injustice of climate change has already been operating for 60 years, the study found by comparing different countries’ GDP per capita between 1961 and 2010 and estimating what each country’s GDP would have been without the effects of climate change. The report further points out that the primary driver is the parabolic relationship between temperature and economic growth: warming increases growth in cool countries and decreases growth in warm countries. As a result, besides the unequally distributed benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption.

In the future, climate change will accelerate inequality as the greatest burden will fall on those in precarious or poor conditions. According to the World Bank, with people in poverty largely uninsured, climate change will exacerbate health shocks (malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress). Climate change could displace 140 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America by 2050 and result in global crop yield losses of 30% by 2080. Furthermore, the effects of climate change will degrade infrastructure and housing, particularly affecting people living in unplanned or unserviced settlements, writes David Wallace-Wells in his book The Uninhabitable Earth (2019). Finally, authorities have a history of prioritizing wealthier areas for protection, further endangering people in poverty.


  • As such, the UN warns that climate change will push 120 million into poverty by 2030 and thus risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.
  • In its latest report, the UN even warns of a climate apartheid scenario, in which the wealthy have the financial resources to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, leaving the rest to carry the burden of the effects of climate change.
  • As a result of climate change, new “safe havens” will arise as hubs where climate change has led to better livability conditions, while other cities will further be threatened by floods, heat waves and extreme weather events and become unlivable, as we wrote earlier.

RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 3: Climate change / natural disasters, rising inequality

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