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Nowadays, climate change is more and more discussed to a point where one might think that he/she already knows everything there is to know about it. However, there are still many aspects that we are not aware of. For example, many do not know that pollution itself, be it air, land, or water, causes more than 9 million premature deaths, which put into perspective represents almost 3 times more than deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria all together. Therefore, although climate change and everything that can be included in this topic is very much discussed, to this day, it continues to be a very present and important topic in our lives, and we, as  humanity, still have a long way to go. This article seeks to explore the disproportionate consequences of climate change in the developing world and the role that developed countries must take to help reduce the burden.  

But what is the developing countries’ contribution to climate change?  

Primarily, it is important to take a look at the global carbon emissions and realize that developing nations are responsible for 63% of it. Apart from the fact that China and India alone account for 28% of the global carbon emissions, which corresponds to almost 50% of the developing countries’ emissions, the value is still alarming. Asia, Latin America and Africa are the regions that contribute the most to current carbon emissions due to lack of technology and resources to fight pollution, as their economies are still growing, and this must be considered when deciding what policies and measures to be taken.

The Paris Agreement indeed acknowledges that the efforts to reduce carbon emissions cannot be the same for developed and developing countries, allowing the less developed ones to emit more carbon until they reach a certain development level that enables them to stop relying on carbon-intensive industries. However, the World Resources Institute shows that it is possible to reduce annual emissions while growing the economy, and the key is to raise the use of renewable resources. This approach looks ideal as it combines decarbonisation with economic growth and poverty reduction, which must remain the priority. Yet, there are still significant barriers preventing developing countries from adopting renewable energies, as many struggle with poor governance, gaps in technical and financial expertise, and lack of resources. The need of implementing specific strategies and policies shaped to each country’s circumstances requires the expertise that only developed countries can provide, reinforcing the importance of a global coordination to shift economies away from carbon-intensive industries.  

The rebound of climate changes   

Besides being the ones that contribute the most to carbon emissions, developing countries are also disproportionately affected by the negative effects of global warming. Observing graph 1, it becomes clear that the developing world has the highest mean exposure to air pollution. According to the World Health Organization, around 98% of people in developing nations live in polluted air areas, while in developed countries the number decreases to 56%.  

The vulnerability that defines the less developed countries ends up limiting their ability to prevent and respond to the impacts of climate change. Let’s consider the fast fashion industry to better understand this issue: as to avoid the bans of chemicals that most governments of developed countries set, multinational companies place most of their manufacturing processes in developing countries, where the dependency on the clothing industry does not allow governments to act as a way of prevention. Moreover, these countries are the least able to afford the consequences and it has been shown that climate change can reverse significant development gains.   

Furthermore, one of the main consequences of the high incidence of emissions in developing countries is the increasing number of climate refugees. Although it does not have an official recognition, the term climate refugee is often used to identify people who are forced to leave their homes because of climate change and global warming. It is also common to hear the term environmental refugee, which aggregates not only the effects of climate change, but also natural disasters that may force people to be displaced. The international organisation Red Cross estimates that the number of climate refugees is higher than the number of political refugees, and scientists predict that in 2050 the number of people leaving their homes due to the consequences of global warming might reach 200 million. Since most displaced people move to safer areas within the same country or near the borders, the burden will continue to fall onto the developing world. The scarce resources become even scarcer with the arrival of refugees, which may end up threatening the lives of millions of people.   

The sad reality  

However, as the gap widens between the wealthy and the poor, the unfortunate reality of developing nations is revealed: there is no infrastructure in place to fight climate change. Funds are mismanaged, resources are scarce, and governments have other priorities – feeding their present population, for example. Sadly, the burden of this fight is done through foreign aid.  

Foreign aid has been effective in the past in combating climate change and is an important tool for those most in need. In Africa, there have been repeated efforts to slow down the desertification of the Sahel, a land strip which divides hundreds of millions between the desert and fertile land. On the other hand of the spectrum, preventative measures have also been put in place, such as giving the native population more incentives to adopt more sophisticated farming methods rather than the slash-and-burn one, still used in many African villages today. Michael Hübler, professor at the Leibniz Universitat in Hannover, claims that, in the future, foreign aid will be divided in two branches: short-term emergency needs, and long-term development needs. He argues that foreign aid must be given in equal parts to both societal development and the preservation of the planet’s biodiversity, as only this will foster real growth in the far future.  

Nevertheless, foreign aid can only last so long. Developed countries have limited amounts of resources that can be used to help other nations in need; developing economies must find a self-sustaining way of fighting climate change. In many cases, foreign help does not account for traditional solutions which have been reliable in the past. For example, in the Pacific Islands, rising sea levels have historically been fought through natural solutions, such as planting more mangroves, a small tree that is more readily sustained in poorer contexts. Foreign aid lacks this nuance. Looking at this from another perspective, as the threat of climate change looms over the world, developed countries will begin focusing retaliatory efforts on themselves rather than developing countries, hence why foreign aid will reach its end date in the near future.  

A change is in order   

It is not known whether humanity will overcome climate change, but the reality is clear: this is the most important issue facing the planet in the 21st century – and, sadly, none will be more affected than those living in developing nations. The consequences will be disastrous if not dealt properly, and we can expect millions of climate refugees flocking to major metropolises in the next 30 years. Poor nations must pollute to grow; developed nations did the same over one hundred years ago – but this is not sustainable. Foreign aid can only do so much to offer alternative methods of growth; sustainable growth may only be achieved in a clean manner by using natural methods, harkening to other times without factories and pollution. It may be hard, but it is possible. 

Sources: The World Bank, Unites Nations, Earth.Org, National Geographic, UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency, The conversation  

Written by Madalena Andrade and Guilherme Barroca

Scientific review: Patrícia Cruz

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