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Sustainability: Are poverty eradication and climate change mitigation compatible?

Nature Communications

October 25, 2017

Efforts to eradicate extreme poverty will not jeopardize attempts to meet climate targets, suggests a study in Nature Communications. However, moving the poor to the next income level - fairly modest living - is predicted to require additional climate mitigation efforts to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Ending extreme poverty - a condition characterized by deprivation of basic human needs (access to food, water, health care and energy) - by 2030 is the first of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, ensuring these resources are available to all is expected to increase carbon emissions and compromise the Paris Agreement climate targets (reducing global warming to at least 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels).

Klaus Hubacek and colleagues investigate potential consequences of achieving poverty eradication for climate targets. They find that eradicating extreme poverty, defined as those without access to basic human needs and with an income of less than US $1.90 per day, does not threaten the climate target. However, to bring the poor to the next income level, i.e. US $2.97 per day, which is still fairly modest for industrialized standards, would require ramping-up climate mitigation efforts by 27%. Current technologies are not able to keep up with additional emissions. The authors conclude that, given that the highest income earners are responsible for the largest proportion of carbon emissions and assuming no future technological change, the climate change discourse should address lifestyle and behavioural changes to become a low carbon society and sustainable world.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-00919-4

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