Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Launch of the World Economic and Social Survey 2016

This year, the World Economic and Social Survey 2016 focuses on two issues central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: climate change and inequalities.  The title of the Survey “Climate Change Resilience: an opportunity for reducing inequalities” highlights the link between pervasive structural inequalities in our societies and the vulnerability of people and entire communities to the effects of climate change. The Survey reviews the growing body of evidence that says: climate change is taking the largest toll on poor and vulnerable people.

Furthermore, what is very important is this – the impact of climate hazards further aggravates existing socioeconomic inequalities.

Resilience to climate change cannot be achieved and sustainable development cannot be reached without removing the underlying inequalities that keep specific groups of people disproportionately exposed and vulnerable.

Addressing structural inequalities is an opportunity to strengthen people’s capacity to respond to the current changes in the global climate, while reaping longer term development benefits.

There is a growing urgency to build resilience to the impacts of climate change and variability. Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were halted completely, the accumulation of GHG so far will continue to increase the frequency and the intensity of climate hazards. Already, 4.2 billion people have been affected by weather-related disasters in the past 20 years, including a large loss of lives.

Climate scenarios predict unambiguously that tropical areas (including some of the poorest countries) will be at higher risk of climate hazards. This includes countries in Africa and South and South-East Asia, small-island developing States, as well as, countries where livelihoods depend on climate-sensitive natural resources, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

Low-income countries suffered the greatest losses, including economic losses estimated at about 5 per cent of GDP.

Within countries, climate change disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable. The probability of being severely affected by a weather event; its impact on people’s livelihoods and their capacity to recover from damage and loss are directly correlated to the presence of multiple inequalities.

Persistent inequalities in access to assets, opportunities, political voice and participation, and in some cases outright discrimination leave large groups of people and communities disproportionately exposed and vulnerable to climate hazards.

These inequalities act against already disadvantaged groups: small scale farmers, women, children, the elderly, urban migrants, the undocumented, specific races and ethnicities, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishermen, and others.

Thus, assessing and tackling the structural inequalities that exist in society is central to an agenda for building resilience to climate change.

Governments have a clear role to play with policies to address the root causes of inequalities to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate hazards building their longer term resilience. Sound development policies are sound policies to build the resilience of people’s livelihoods.

Support from the international community to support climate change adaptation, especially directed to the poorest and most affected countries, is also needed.

Adaptation costs will range from $70 billion to $100 billion per year by 2050 in the developing countries alone, and this may be an underestimate of actual costs.

Resources for adaptation to climate change and resilience building will serve to advance many other Sustainable Development Goals.

This report, the WESS 2016 contributes to highlight the importance of bringing the challenge of climate resilience into development policy and the opportunity countries have to address the structural determinants that perpetuate poverty and inequality in its multiple dimensions.

Thank you.

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