Joined at the hip?

I’m sitting here in snowy Copenhagen listening to the BBC World Service. Sir Nicholas Stern, who was being interviewed, made this statement:

The two biggest challenges of the future are solving world poverty and combating climate change, and we can’t accomplish one without the other.

What do you think about this? If global warming got really awful, would those currently in poverty be condemned to stay in poverty (ignoring the small island nations)? Similarly, as it isn’t the bottom billion that are responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions, I don’t see how the presence of poverty (give that they aren’t really growing that quickly) prevents the rich and industrialising nations of the world from tackling climate change.

If anything, I think the two are more likely to conflict rather than to complement each other, but what do you think?

5 thoughts on “Joined at the hip?

  1. April

    December 22, 2009 at 1:45am

    Uh….yeah. Of course you are right and NS is full of $%^#.
    The cheapest energy sources emit more carbon. Constraining carbon emissions will raise the cost of production….etc etc.
    There may be some areas/ activities which can help a country achieve both poverty reduction and reduced carbon emissions (or at least reduced harm from climate change)…family planning and reductions in unwanted births come to mind. But in the main, you are clearly right.

  2. Owen Barder

    December 23, 2009 at 4:33am

    You are basically right about this; but with one nuance.

    If the scientific consensus is correct (I am not qualified to say whether it is or not, so I shall accept their professional judgement) then the impact of climate change on the poorest countries is going to be immense. Entire countries may become unsustainable. The number of hugely distressed people trying to move from where they are to somewhere they can live is going to be enormous.

    In this sense, tackling climate change complements tackling poverty. Unless we tackle climate change, the future scale, breadth, depth and nature of poverty will change out of all recognition.

  3. Ranil Dissanayake

    December 23, 2009 at 6:18am

    Owen – it all ties in nicely with your recent call for greater freedom of movement. Surely a good thing, though I do deeply dislike the veiled aspersions cast by some pro-migration commentators (not you) that it somehow automatically = racism if you see that there are issues with migrations that need to be dealt with from a recipient country point of view.

    I’m in favour of greater migration, but still believe that the nation-state is the only truly viable and functioning mode of political organisation, so accompanying migration must be a better discussion of its affects and how it changes conceptions of nationhood.

  4. Ranil Dissanayake

    December 23, 2009 at 6:20am

    or indeed on its ‘effects’. what is going on with my grammar these days?

  5. Matt

    December 23, 2009 at 11:52am


    Yes, that’s one of the areas that it’s clear that they are related, although as Ranil suggests, there is one relatively easy-fix: get rich countries to sign up to agreements to accept climate change refugees (these might be difficult to define, but those that lose their homes due to rising sea levels certainly fall in this group). I half-joked about this in an earlier post in which I suggested that the average voter’s resistance to immigration might help internalise the externalities associated with climate change:

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