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Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Many Strong Voices

Global forecast – the climate is changing

Millions of poor people in developing countries are vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change impacts on water resources, agriculture and ecosystems. While adaptation is crucial for the whole society, it is urgent for people in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States.

By John Crump, GRID-Arendal

Climate change presents the human race with a profound challenge. It is not just an environmental, economic or even social issue. Increasingly, it is being seen as a matter of ethics and human rights. The effects of climate change are regional but solutions must be global. We all have an ethical responsibility for our common future – and we also have a particular responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable populations. The ethical position is clear:

“Unless people see that climate change creates ethics and justice concerns, they will not likely be motivated to do what is needed to protect those most vulnerable to climate change who include many of the world’s poorest people and future generations.”1

This ethical dimension to the climate change debate is being put forward by people in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) through a new programme called Many Strong Voices, coordinated by GRID-Arendal. The programme involves indigenous peoples, community organizations, policy makers, NGOs and researchers. One of the key goals of the programme is to make sure the voices of two of the world’s most vulnerable regions2 are heard in climate change negotiations.

At first glance the Arctic and SIDS appear to have little in common. Yet both are homelands to a diverse number of indigenous peoples who all have a strong reliance on the environment and its natural resources – animals, fish, and plants. Traditional knowledge continues to play a critical role in decision-making in these societies, with many people retaining a connection to the environment through a body of traditional knowledge built up over the centuries. This close link with the environment is both a strength and, in the face of climate change, a vulnerability.

For example, many of the Inuit communities of the Arctic continue to rely on sea ice for hunting marine mammals like seal and walrus. These and other animals, in the region, are important sources of protein and hunting remains important to Inuit culture and identity. Temperatures, in parts of the Arctic, are rising at twice the rate of the rest of planet and this is placing enormous stress on its peoples, their culture and the region’s ecosystems.

People in the SIDS face similar challenges to their economic and cultural survival. In Kiribati, in the Pacific, saltwater intrusion affects the panadus trees used to build houses and also plants used for local medicine and food supplies. Other island populations face potential relocation and the loss of not only their homes but also their national identity and rights. Helping people to be resilient and adapt to change and so maintain their livelihoods, cultures and identity is vital.

To build resilience, Many Strong Voices is conducting a SIDS vulnerability assessment, sharing knowledge between regions, building alliances and partnerships, lobbying at climate change negotiations and placing the plight of vulnerable people on the media agenda. Many Strong Voices participants were active at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Bali COP 13 and will make their presence known at, and their voices heard, in negotiations leading to a post-Kyoto climate change agreement.

The Arctic and SIDS are considered barometers of global environmental change and, as such, they will be critical testing grounds for processes and programmes aimed at strengthening the adaptive capacities of human societies confronting climate change. Lessons learned through the Many Strong Voices Programme will support policy processes at the local, regional and international levels, and will provide decision-makers both in the Arctic and SIDS with the knowledge to safeguard and strengthen vulnerable regional social, economic and natural systems.

  1. Climate Ethics in Bali – the Urgency of Seeing Climate Change as an Ethical and Justice Concern,
  2. IPCC IV: Summary for Policymakers 2007, pg. 21,

World Poverty DistributionAgriculture outputs in 2080 due to climate change

With climate changes, we have to adapt our ways to a new environment – in most cases warmer but possibly wetter and drier. Projections on the climate in the future provide some guidance for us, but how can we create models to show how the human society will react? This map presents a rough idea of changes in agricultural outputs from increased temperatures, precipitation differences and also from carbon fertilization for plants. Projecting climate is one thing, but agriculture adds more multiple dimensions of complexity – extreme events, crop rotations, crop selection, breeds, irrigation, erosion, soils and much more.

World Poverty Distribution

Human vulnerability and food insecurity – rainfall and economy in Sub-Saharan Africa

For Sub-Saharan Africa, economic growth patterns follow precipitation patterns closely. As rainfall has decreased over the last 30 years, so has the financial development. Rain-fed agriculture represents a major share of the economy of these countries, as well as for domestic food supply. Improved water resources management and a wider resource base are critical to the stability and security that is required for economic development.

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