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The Interlocking Challenges of Climate Change and Poverty | The Development Podcast
Episode 3730th June 2023 • World Bank | The Development Podcast • World Bank
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How do we address climate change, reduce poverty, and boost shared prosperity on a livable planet? Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and no country is immune.

On this episode of The Development Podcast, we hone in on voices across Africa about the experience of climate change and how it intersects with poverty, and we hear from Richard Damania, World Bank’s Chief Economist for Sustainable Development in Washington, DC. Tune in as we speak with Cathy Kamamu, a farmer from Kenya, Professor Denis Aheto, Director of the Centre for Coastal Management in the Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience, Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, Director of Climate Change for the Ghana Forestry Commission, and Richard Damania, Chief Economist for Sustainable Development at the World Bank. 

Tell us what you think of our podcast here >>>. We would love to hear from you! 

Featured Voices

  • Richard Damania, Chief Economist for Sustainable Development, World Bank
  • Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, Director of Climate Change for the Ghana Forestry Commission
  • Professor Denis Aheto, Director, Centre for Coastal Management, Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience
  • Cathy Kamanu, farmer from Kenya


[00:00] Welcome and introduction of the topic

[01:56] Visions from Kenya: Everyday effects of climate change on a farmer

[05:45] Data overview on the relationship between climate change and poverty

[07:21] Visions from Ghana: The impact of climate change for coastal communities

[10:08] Ghana: World Bank's Country Climate and Development Report

[11:55] Deforestation in Ghana: How to protect the natural landscape of countries?

[15:19] Addressing both climate change and poverty

[19:01] Detox Development: Repurposing environmentally harmful subsidies

[20:37] Hope (and concerns) on the horizon

[22:33] Closure and thanks for tuning in!


This international development podcast brings together the data, research—and solutions—that can pave the way to a sustainable future. Through conversations focused on revealing the latest data, the best research, and cutting-edge solutions, let us introduce you to the folks working to make the world a better place. Listen and subscribe for free on your favorite platform. And rate our show! ;)

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The World Bank is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for low-income countries. Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development.


Raka Banerjee:

Hello and welcome to The Development Podcast coming to you from Washington, DC and beyond. I'm Raka Banerjee.

Srimathi Sridhar: And I'm Srimathi Sridhar.

Raka Banerjee: Coming up in this episode addressing climate change, reducing poverty, and boosting shared prosperity on a livable planet.

Srimathi Sridhar: Climate change is one of the defining issues of our age and no country is immune. We'll be honing in on one continent, hearing from voices across Africa about the experience of climate change and of how to rethink the challenges. We'll get a snapshot from one farmer in Kenya.

Cathy Kamanu: Most of maize is going to dry up because the rain just cut short and people are asking, why? We are telling them this is what I meant when I said about climate change.

Raka Banerjee: And to look at some of the ways that climate change impacts can be met and livelihoods protected, we hear from Ghana.

Roselyn Fosuah Adjei: At the local community, the forest fringe communities must have a reward for this, otherwise they are not incentivized enough to keep the forest standing.

Srimathi Sridhar: Plus we get the big picture view from the World Bank Group here in Washington DC.

Richard Damania: It's very unfair. The closer you are to the equator, the worse generally are the impacts of climate change would tend to entrench poverty unless we really, really take policies forward to account for these and preempt what we know is likely to happen.

Raka Banerjee: All that and more coming up on The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group.

Srimathi Sridhar: Raka, this is a huge topic we're getting into and we're going to be talking through some of the numbers when it comes to climate change and poverty throughout the episode.

Raka Banerjee: Yeah, absolutely. I've got some interesting statistics for you.

Srimathi Sridhar:

But first, let's take a little audio trip to Kenya, to a farm a couple of hours from the capitol, Nairobi.

Raka Banerjee: Our producer, Sarah Treanor, caught up with one farmer to hear about the everyday effects of climate change on her livelihood and her hopes for the future.

Sarah Treanor: The sounds of a busy morning working on the farm.

Cathy Kamanu: Good morning. My name is Cathy Kamanu and welcome to my farm. My farm is located in Muranga County. We are constructing a pack house, we are expecting the rains. We told it's El Nino, so we are getting prepared.

Sarah Treanor: The local area says Cathy is perfect for agriculture.

Cathy Kamanu: So we have so much of avocados going around. Macadamia nuts, they're going to be in Muranga County, very juicy fruits in Muranga County.

Sarah Treanor: And what are some of Cathy's favorite crops to produce on her farm?

Cathy Kamanu: Tomatoes, cucumbers.

Sarah Treanor: Cathy trained as an accountant and worked in banking. She said that she realized there was good money to be made in farming during her time in the corporate world. Armed with her passion for the idea of producing food, she switched careers.

Cathy Kamanu: We go to eat every morning, every lunchtime, and then dinner. The following day you wake up hungry. So my question was, where does this food come from? Meaning there's always a market for this.

Sarah Treanor: So what about the everyday impacts of climate change on her farm and her livelihood?

Cathy Kamanu: Before I used to tell people about climate change and nobody got concerned. It was like you just preaching. But because of what has been happening, so long dry season, very short rainy season, the maize is going, most of the maize is going to dry up because the rain just cut short and people are asking, why? And now this is a time you're telling them, this is what I meant when I said about climate change. As a farmer in my little farm, how am I contributing? That is number one. So you'll find everybody is burning the waste. Fires are everywhere. People don't understand the relationship between carbon and the climate change.

Sarah Treanor: Cathy says that some farmers are investing in irrigation, but many can't afford it. She also says that there needs to be incentives for people to do things like plant more trees, such as encouraging them to grow fruit trees.

Cathy Kamanu: No, when you plant a tree, when you tell someone to plant a tree, they don't take care of that tree. But when you tell someone to plant a fruit tree, they'll take care of that tree because they expect a fruit after maybe one year. You have just a small garden. And in your farm that you're contributing what is affecting the whole world, you want to be part of the change.

Sarah Treanor: Cathy is clearly a passionate food producer and believes in the livelihoods farming can support, but it's also clear she's deeply worried by climate change and sees an urgent need for farmers like her in Kenya to adapt to the changing climate and its challenges to both survive and to thrive.

Cathy Kamanu: Before, like my grandmother would tell me, expect rain on October 15th, and it would rain. If I ask her now, she tells me, I don't understand anymore what is happening. So you'll have some sections of the country, it rains too much, it destroys the food. Other section of the same country doesn't receive any rain. The food is drying. Now, as a farmer, how do I remove the little one drop in the ocean? Because we have all contributed to climate change in our little behaviors because now in this climate, you need to survive as we try to solve the problem.

Srimathi Sridhar:

Thank you, Sarah, and to Cathy as well for taking us on a trip to her farm. So Raka we've just heard from Cathy about how she experiences climate change, but what do some of the numbers tell us?

Raka Banerjee: Well, as you can imagine, the stats on climate change are all pretty concerning. So a World Bank Group report from a few years back referred to climate change as an acute threat to poverty reduction. And of course those threats are not evenly distributed. It's particularly in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa that climate change poses the greatest threat. And looking at the scope of the issue, it's estimated that as many as 130 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2-0-3-0 as a result of various climate change impacts.

Srimathi Sridhar: And from looking into climate stats, are there any specific areas of vulnerability that really stand out?

Raka Banerjee: Yeah, there are some key factors. One is that the poor tend to have lower quality housing or just assets in general, that are more vulnerable to damage. They're also more reliant on fragile infrastructure like unpaved roads or lack of electricity for generators, things like that. They suffer more from higher food prices, especially when there are shocks to the supply chain after a natural disaster. And just generally they suffer more damages when it comes to health and education, especially diseases related to climate like diarrhea or malaria.

Srimathi Sridhar: Wow. I mean that is really a lot to take in there. Thanks so much for sharing that with us Raka. And for those of you tuning in, just a quick pause to remind you that we do have a survey for you to take with any feedback that you might have. It's linked wherever you get your podcast, so do find a moment to tell us what you think.

Raka Banerjee:

Thanks Sri. And now let's head over to West Africa, to Ghana. We spoke to Professor Dennis Aheto. He's the Director of the Centre for Coastal Management at the World Bank funded Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. We asked Dennis to explain the kinds of issues that climate change can cause for coastal communities.

Denis Aheto: Ghana's economy is largely dependent on climate sensitive sectors. And so with the challenges we find through the sea level rise, increased temperatures, not just sea surface temperatures, but the air temperatures as well as reduce rainfall. It presents a threat. This presents as an accelerated coastal erosion that is not just leading to loss of land, but also loss of property. Increasingly, we are seeing flooding, which has become a big issue. We've also seen shifts in the distribution abundance of valuable marine habitats, which include mangroves. And mind you, these are all also carbon sinks. And all these things have increased the mortality of fish stocks, quite a number of far-reaching impacts on livelihoods because fishermen and women who depend on the sector go out of jobs.

Srimathi Sridhar: Dennis explains some of the ways these are being addressed and the role of the World Bank.

Denis Aheto: There are two areas of our partnerships with the World Bank, the education unit, and of course the environment. And what we are proud about is that through this initiative, we've been able to bring students and professionals from across 15 African countries. For now, we are training 30 PhD students and 90 master students in various areas dealing with climate coastal management or coastal resilience.

Raka Banerjee: We also asked Dennis if there are any projects that he's found particularly impactful.

Denis Aheto: Yes. In a small coastal community that sits on a sandbar called the [inaudible]. There's this story where a man had lost his home as a result of erosion. And obviously was actually asking if our center could support with some bags of cement to reconstruct. Communities have lost property, in very severe cases, loss of life, which I think are completely avoidable. So one of the things we do at the center is to research into adaptation and mitigation strategies. And we have initiated programs in that particular community. We have encouraged beekeeping in mangrove areas or oyster farming in mangrove areas as a way of changing mindsets and livelihood, providing alternative livelihood opportunities.

Srimathi Sridhar:

Thanks to Professor Dennis Aheto. Raka, a good time I think for you to share some of the data you have on Ghana for me.

Raka Banerjee: Sure. Yeah. So I was looking at the World Bank's latest Country Climate and Development Report for Ghana. These reports are basically diagnostics that look at climate change and development together. And the latest report for Ghana shows that the country is already dealing with impacts to climate change with rainfall becoming more erratic. Extreme weather events like floods, droughts, heat waves are becoming more and more common.

Srimathi Sridhar: And of course that's all going to impact the poorest and most vulnerable the most, right?

Raka Banerjee: Yes, exactly. So the report estimates that unless urgent climate actions are taken, at least a million more people could fall into poverty by 2-0-5-0. And just to be clear, this is a conservative estimate. It's not taking into account the possibility of catastrophic outcomes due to tipping points or biodiversity loss.

Srimathi Sridhar: And there's a relationship between climate change and conflict as well.

Raka Banerjee: Yeah, absolutely. That's a huge concern. So the annual average mean temperature in Ghana has increased by one degree Celsius since 1-9-6-0, and that might not seem like a lot, but Ghana is in a region that's faced with a lot of instability, especially with all the conflict that's been happening in the Sahel over the last few decades between cultivators and pastoralists. And some estimates are projecting that another one degree Celsius increase could lead to a 54% increase in the likelihood of conflict in areas where both farmers and herders are living. Rising temperatures also reduce the yields for crops and have a depressive effect on labor productivity due to heat stress. So overall incomes could reduce by up to 40% for poor households by 2-0-5-0 in Ghana.

Srimathi Sridhar:

Thanks for all this context, Raka. And staying with Ghana, we also got to catch up with Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, who is the director of climate change for the Ghana Forestry Commission.

Roselyn Fosuah Adjei: So we are very much an agreeing economy. Farming goes on across the entire country. The high forest zone is typically known for cocoa production. As you might be well aware, Ghana is the second-largest producer of cocoa beans on the international market. So deforestation in Ghana, or let me say forest degradation is a challenge that we've been confronted with for so many years. And so our number one driver of deforestation or forest degradation is agricultural expansion. However, we also have issues to do with illegal logging and illegal mining. Now, this is one of the very important aspects of the issues that we have had with deforestation, forest degradation, because the very commodity, cocoa, that contributes a lot to economic development has been produced at the expense of our forest. However, the forests are the ones that have provided us with the microclimate for the cocoa to thrive. Now, once cocoa production is affected in Ghana, it affects so many families, it affects different sectors because cocoa is really a backbone of the country.

Raka Banerjee: I wonder if you can share with us what has the Forestry Commission managed to do to protect the countries natural landscape?

Roselyn Fosuah Adjei: The forests are not just for consumptive uses. You need to get into a space where you can maximize your tree standing. And so this whole idea about payment for ecosystem services, particularly for carbon sequestration really became topical in country. So the World Bank was instrumental in supporting the country. We've also had forest landscape restoration programs that basically plant up degraded forest land. The local actor, the local community, the forest fringe communities must have a reward for this, otherwise they are not incentivized enough to keep the forest standing. In my work, I realized that indigenous people, local communities are actually the people who can help us maintain these resources. They have done that in the past. Lack of other economic incentives for their livelihoods and for their sustenance. And the changing climatic conditions have meant that there have been pressures on these forest resources, on these natural resources. However, if we are able to put in place the necessary governance arrangements within the climate change programs and interventions that we have and have inclusivity and transparency that enhances the decision making protocols for local people, we are going to be in a place where deforestation and forest degradation goals can really be achieved. 69% of every carbon revenue that we are making should go to local communities through their own governance structures, through their own bank accounts, managed by them for the very first time. The very resources that we see are for them, but are being managed on their behalf by government. They are realizing the benefits. So this is where I am very joyful about the progress that we have made and we look forward to doing more.

Srimathi Sridhar:

Many thanks to Roselyn for joining us. Raka, given what we've heard so far, when it comes to high-income and low-income countries and climate change, what's a picture there?

Raka Banerjee: Yeah, great question Sri. So what's interesting is that 62% of the world's poor live in middle-income countries, but it's the poor and low-income countries that are most affected by climate change. So there's a bit of tension there. Many of the middle-income countries that the World Bank works with, they're dealing more with second generation development challenges like financial literacy, urbanization, social inequality, things like that. Meanwhile, low-income countries are struggling with not being able to take advantage of the opportunity to develop in a carbon intensive way like many high-income countries did already. Instead, they need support now to slow down the changing climate.

Srimathi Sridhar: That's an interesting point. Thanks, Raka. Now let's tie this all together and get the view from the World Bank Group. I was joined here in the studio in Washington DC by Richard Damania. He's a chief economist for the Sustainable Development Practice Group here at the World Bank.

Richard Damania: Okay. The first thing I think to recognize about climate change is it's very unfair. The closer you are to the equator, the worse generally are the impacts of climate change. And we see of course, that much of Africa straddles either side of the equator and as the consequence, what we see is that the impacts on Africa are much, much worse than elsewhere. What do we mean? We can even be a little bit more precise. We're already beginning to see these effects. We are seeing droughts are much more frequent in Africa than they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. Heat, of course, is actually increasing. All of these things may grow in crops much more difficult. So agricultural yields tend to stagnate in those conditions. People may not know or recognize as much, but heat also affects your performance, particularly if you're working outdoors, things like heat stress and you add heat stress to humid conditions. It's called wet bulb conditions, productivity declines even more. Then we might add to that the disease vectors that come because of climate change, things like malaria for example. So it just really makes life more difficult and therefore would tend to entrench poverty unless we really, really take policies forward to account for these and preempt what we know is likely to happen.

Raka Banerjee: Thank you so much for that. So how is the World Bank strategy evolving to address both climate change and poverty?

Richard Damania: At the World Bank, we spent roughly about $31 billion on climate finance. So that's a fair bit of money, but no amount of money is ever enough. Our focus really is in poor countries on adaptation because countries have to learn to live with what's coming and we are better planning to learn to live with what's coming in terms of the risks, say of flood, of extreme heat and all the things that we just spoke about. And that of course, is a matter of tackling poverty as much as it is a matter of bringing resilience of people that tend to be very poor. And indeed, the way we should think about this really is where in the 21st century are the big risks to poverty? And one area for the big risks is of course coming from climate, it's coming from environmental degradation. So there's climate risks and there's things like bad water quality, bad air quality, all of those things affect people's health, and it just tends to be, for all the unfortunate reasons, we understand that the poor are much more vulnerable and much more exposed to these risks than are the rich. If you have poor water quality and you're very rich, you can afford to buy bottled water. If you're very poor, you need to spend that money on food for yourself and your children or your children's education.

Raka Banerjee:

So you've been working on a report titled Detox Development, great title by the way, looking at the need to repurpose environmentally harmful subsidies. Can you tell us about the key recommendations of your work?

Richard Damania: All right, thanks so much. Detox Development, what's that really about? That report about? It's about subsidies and subsidies that are paid out for things that do harm, things that do harm to people's health and things that do harm to the environment. And what we find in that report is that very many countries spend more money subsidizing sectors and things that do harm and destroy the environment than they do for things that are necessary, such as health, such as education and poverty reduction. In fact, the magnitude of those subsidies is so vast that countries spent trillions of dollars in aggregate on these subsidies, and this is money that could be repurposed and spent for the good of the country and for the good of people for eliminating poverty, for feeding people with nutritional food and improving health and education. But instead, it is wasted. It is wasted on things like fossil fuel subsidies, roughly half a trillion dollars. It is wasted on harmful agricultural subsidies that increase pollution, cause deforestation and devastation in all sorts of other ways. And subsidies to fisheries, a lot of which accrue to the very large fishing fleets in the world that of course are depleting the global fish stocks. None of this makes very much sense. There's a fundamental contradiction there, and we need to be able to resolve it.

Raka Banerjee:

Not to add to the doom and gloom of things, but Richard, the world is not on track to meet either the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Agreement aspirations on climate change. What gives you hope that humanity can and will make the progress that's needed to tackle some of these issues?

Richard Damania: Well, one thing that gives me hope is that whilst we see a lot of doom and gloom and a lot of things going wrong, we also observe a lot of good things that are happening. So we de do see some forests that are restored and we see the biodiversity returning, perhaps not to the scale that we would design. On the other hand, you also see the destruction, but you're also seeing some positive things. Another positive example is you can go to countries, you can have a force 10 cyclone coming through. A decade ago, people would die. Today, they're not dying anymore. We are learning how to deal with these things, and one reason why we are learning how to deal with these things is we have better data, we have better know-how, we can communicate a lot better. So that's why the glass is at least half full.

Raka Banerjee: I actually want to jump to the opposite question of how is the glass most half empty in the sense of what are you most worried about?

Richard Damania: I think the biggest concern is that the damage really goes beyond what people focus on, which tends to be climate change. And a lot of these earth systems are interlinked, and we learn that from the sciences. So you let go of one, and that connects and affects everything else. If we destroyed the major forests like the Amazon and the Congo, that would worsen climate change. It would worsen the hydrological cycle and so on. They all feed back onto each other. If you get climate change or if you destroy biodiversity, there's no recovering, it's irreversible, it's done. And I think that's what people need to bear in mind when they think about environmental problems. They're irreversible. If you lose a species, you really can't bring that species back, and that is really important to understand.

Raka Banerjee:

A bit of glass half full and glass half empty. Thanks so much, Richard, for a really great conversation and to all of our guests on this episode. I have one last statistic for you Sri. It's about climate migration. So as many as 216 million people around the world could be forced to migrate in distress within their country by 2050. For example, in North Africa, water scarcity will likely push people out of certain parts of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Whereas in low-lying coastal regions like Mekong, Delta and Vietnam, people may be forced to move because of sea level rise and storm surges.

Srimathi Sridhar: Well, Raka, thank you so much for all this information and to everyone else, it's been a really fascinating dive into this crucial topic. We hope you enjoyed it. Do subscribe and get in touch with us. We are at

Raka Banerjee: We'll be back next month. So for now, it's goodbye from me, Raka Banerjee.

Srimathi Sridhar: And me, Srimathi Sridhar. See you soon.

Raka Banerjee: Bye.



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