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Climate and Poverty in the Americas

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Charlie Barlow.

How do the poor experience climate change and how are they affected by climate policy? Many scholars, activists and policy makers have suggested that climate change will have serious negative impacts on the most vulnerable – most often defined in terms of their poverty status. They also argue that responses to climate change should be particularly sensitive to the poorest people and countries that are most vulnerable and bear little responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. But as millions of people emerge from poverty around the world – at least according to standard development indicators – the emissions of poorer countries increase. Is this decline in poverty reflected in reduced climate vulnerability and increased capacity to adapt to climate change?

This lecture will first explore the idea of vulnerability, its relation to poverty, and how it may be changing over time and space. I will argue that we need to rethink the concept and measurement of vulnerability to capture the embodiment of climate change for individuals, to incorporate insights from critical development studies, and to recognize that constructions of vulnerability are used politically to make claims on limited climate aid. Secondly I develop a framework, grounded in political ecology, for evaluating the impacts of climate policies – emissions reductions, carbon trading and offsets, and adaptation – on poor or marginalized people. Can we develop responses to climate change that simultaneously reduce emissions, help adapt to a warmer climate, and alleviate poverty and inequality?

Examples will be drawn from a variety of research sites in the Americas, including studies of vulnerability, offsetting and adaptation in Mexico, Northeast Brazil, and the Southwestern United States. These studies demonstrate the significance of varying technologies, natures, governance structures and contexts in the successes and failures of understanding vulnerabilities and assessing the effectiveness of climate policy in the Americas.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - Distinguished International Fellows series.

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