Climate change challenging development

MDGs: ambition made even harder by climate change

In 2000 the world was introduced to a bold and exciting vision for development - the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The United Nations plan set out to create a world where poverty was reduced by half; where disease is less common and where people would have a greater chance of survival; where all children receive primary education and women are given more opportunities and where we live in a more sustainable environment. All by 2015.

But with the deadline fast approaching, it has become clear that the targets laid down at the turn of the millennium will be missed.

“The goals the world set are not being met … The reality is that we are we are a million miles away from success.”
Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom

Every country which made a commitment and signed up to the MDGs must now face up to the fact that we are on course to fail – on course to fail those people who are living in dire poverty - and climate change is only making matters worse.


Poverty and hunger is likely to increase as our climate changes, making day-to-day living even more of a struggle for billions across the world. Many people in developing countries rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and increasingly erratic weather patterns mean that crops will fail. The result is that farmers and their families do not have a sustainable food supply or livelihood as they often rely exclusively on their own crops. Poor people also live in areas more prone to flooding, cyclones and droughts, leaving them exposed to environmental vulnerabilities as they have little capacity or funds to cope. With climate change, poor people will become even poorer, meaning we are likely to see the number of people living under $1 a day increase – the exact opposite of the vision set out by the MDGs.

As crops fail and water becomes more scarce, education will be one of the first casualties. Unsurprisingly it becomes a low priority following the loss of a home or the need to migrate following a flood, storm or drought. Children are more likely to suffer from malnutrition as there is less food to eat. In addition, children may have to spend more time on household chores such as helping collect water, which shockingly can take up to three days in a week.

For centuries, women have had the responsibility for fetching water, firewood and often food in developing countries, meaning they bear disproportionate hardship when provision of these basic necessities is scarce. Women make up two thirds of the world's 1.3 billion people living in poverty and account for 75% of the world's illiterate adults. This is often because girls are removed from school to help with household chores, communities are forced to move and educational opportunities seem less important. Access to resources and information is essential if women are to overcome poverty and the challenges posed by climate change. A society where women are more equal stands a much greater chance of achieving the MDGs by 2015.

Easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea kill around 11 million children a year. AIDS, malaria & tuberculosis together kill millions, yet many of these lives could be saved by scaling up existing programmes which promote simple, low-cost solutions. Progress will be severely threatened by climate change as people become more vulnerable due to the spread of disease. Floods and drought will increase outbreaks of diarrhoea and cholera, associated with dirty water and warmer temperatures.

Water resources
Access to clean water will be threatened as our climate changes. The lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is a major cause of ill health and lifethreatening disease in developing countries. Half the people in developing countries do not have access to toilets or basic sanitation – in Africa the number has actually increased from 335 million in 1990 to 440 million in 2004. 

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