Global warming and climate change are real and pressing issues for today’s world that cannot continue to grow without any action. Both natural events as well has human activity have led to an increase in average global temperatures. Shifts in climate, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures affect each and every one of us, but more importantly, disproportionately affect our most poor and vulnerable populations.
The impoverished not only face more difficulty obtaining medical care, food, and proper shelter, but also lack the resources to recover from natural disasters quickly. Homes and livelihoods are often lost or significantly damaged because of floods or droughts never seen in this magnitude before. Because of this, we cannot even begin to think about ending poverty without first addressing the issue of climate change.
One proposed solution is to reduce deforestation, and keep tropical forests standing to keep carbon sinks intact. These intact forests not only store large quantities of carbon, but also absorb about one-fifth of carbon dioxide emissions each year. These forests are so vital that they were recognized in the Paris agreement, calling for countries to conserve these forests along with other carbon reservoirs in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Not only do tropical forests help mitigate the impacts of global warming, but can also contribute towards the achievement of 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs revolving around food, water, health, energy, and human safety are all impacted by the success of maintaining these critical forests.
Maintaining tropical forests make sense economically. Carbon pricing, which is putting a price on carbon pollution based on its wide-ranging effects, has been implemented among 40 countries already, with many seeing success. One of these countries is Brazil, who has already seen a reduction in its deforestation rate of 80% since 2004. Brazil has been utilizing satellite-based technologies to track illegal deforestation and alert environmental police to these areas quickly, with other countries hoping to follow similar models.
Other economic incentives include performance-based payments (PBMs) between high and low-income countries. One such partnership between Guyana and Norway, has seen success in 6 areas, including for example broad buy-in throughout Guyana and strengthening its institutions of forest governance. However, this has not been without difficulties as well, including increasing commercial pressures from logging markets, and long-term uncertainty about the success of these partnerships.
While these initiatives have shown initial success, more impactful solutions such as a reduction in energy subsidies worldwide could free up government spending. This spending in turn, could be targeted towards poor populations in a variety of ways, such as strengthening social protection systems.
So why now? As the impacts of global warming and climate change increase, so too do their effects on poverty. Unless we decide to act now, our ability to target extreme poverty will become even more difficult. In order to reach our SDG of ending all poverty by 2030, we must act now and we must act quickly. Protecting and restoring tropical forests, establishing more global partnerships between low and high income countries, and improving other incentives are critical for the future our Earth as well as its inhabitants.