ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Climate Change and Rural Poverty Levels in India

Although there is wide recognition of the adverse impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on poverty, there is hardly any empirical evidence to substantiate this. The trends and the role of agricultural growth and other factors on rural poverty in India—which has the largest concentration of the poor in the world—have been analysed, and the likely changes in rural poverty levels in India under alternative climate scenarios have been assessed. Evidence presented here suggests that rural poverty trends in India, which witnessed a significant decline during the post-reform period beginning from 1991, may get reversed and may increase due to the likely adverse impacts of climate change on Indian agriculture, and other drivers of poverty. Not only will the proportion of poor population likely rise, but also the depth and severity of rural poverty measured through the poverty gap index and squared poverty gap index may aggravate sharply in response to warming temperatures and other climatic changes.

The author would like to express his sincere thanks to Martin Ravallion and Gaurav Datt for sharing the poverty data set compiled by them which enabled this study. Comments from Robert Mendelsohn, Clement Tisdell, Jyothis Satyapalan, H Chandrashekar and B P Vani were useful for the preparation of this paper.

Poor and marginalised people will be affected the most by the risks posed by climate change and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones and other natural calamities. This has an impact on their lives and livelihoods through loss of crop yields, incomes, assets, employment, etc. Added to this, a rise in food prices following crop loss hurts the poor who are net buyers of food. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that climate change and climate variability will “worsen existing poverty, exacerbate inequalities and trigger both new vulnerabilities and some opportunities for individuals and communities … it will create new poor between now and 2100 in developed and developing countries, and jeopardize sustainable development” (IPCC 2014a). “Climate change driven impacts … act as a threat multiplier meaning that the impacts of climate change compound other drivers of poverty … Climate change intersects with many causes and aspects of poverty to worsen not only income poverty but also undermine well-being, agency, and a sense of belonging” (IPCC 2014a). It will impede economic growth and efforts to achieve the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 1 that seeks to reduce the number of poor people by half and eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030. Funds that can otherwise be used for development purposes have to be diverted to invest in climate infrastructure and build climate resilience as well as provide safety nets for the poor (Ninan and Inoue 2017). The Stern Review (2007) observes that climate change is a grave threat to the developing world and a major obstacle to continued poverty reduction across its many dimensions.

Although there is recognition about the harmful effects of climate change and extreme weather events on poverty and poverty reduction, there are hardly any studies which have tried to assess the impact of climate change on poverty levels. The IPCC Assessment Report cited earlier acknowledges the lack of evidence or empirical studies that can shed light on the likely climate change impact on poverty levels, except for two studies from Zambia and Tanzania which suggest an increase in the numbers of the poor in response to warming temperatures (IPCC 2014a). This study seeks to address this research gap and assess the likely impact of climate change on rural poverty levels in India.

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Updated On : 21st Jan, 2019
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