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The devastating effects that climate change has on the world's poor

It's people like Meenakshi Dewan who are leading the movement to end extreme poverty and protect our planet. Meenakshi is one of four women in her village trained in solar power engineering.

Fact: Addressing climate change is about achieving justice for the world’s poor.

If that doesn’t seem obvious to you, let me explain.

The 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty are disproportionately affected by climate change. In fact, the UNDP says that developing countries will suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change, despite the fact that the 50 least developed nations have contributed to only 1% of greenhouse gas emissions.

So how is climate change affecting the world’s poor? Let’s take a look:

1. Decline in agricultural productivity

A scene from one of my favorite movies, Interstellar, that's placed in the future when the world has almost run out of food.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the world’s foremost, trusted authority on all things climate change) the global food supply is already being affected by rising temperatures.

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, the report’s lead author, explains that, "As we go forward in time, we're going to see first in the poorer countries... decreases in some of the main crops like wheat or corn that feed their populations. Eventually they get into trouble and they don't have enough food to feed their people.”

What happens when we have shortages of food? Prices soar sky high, leaving the world’s poorest incredibly vulnerable.

I’ve seen enough post-apocalyptic movies to know this is a very dangerous situation. Let’s not let this happen.

2. More natural disasters and extreme weather

An unexpected side-effect of the flooding in parts of Pakistan has been that millions of spiders climbed up into the trees to escape the rising flood waters (Sindh, Pakistan) | Flickr: UK Department for International Development

When countries in the developed world are hit by extreme weather, they’re usually able to recover relatively quickly-or at least keep the damage to a relatively confined area, while the business of the nation continues. The opposite is true for the developing world. Natural disasters and extreme weather can completely derail these nations’ hard work towards lifting their people out of poverty by destroying infrastructure and homes, putting people out of work, and creating general unrest.

Even with the support of the international community, we’ve seen disastrous examples of aid being misused to the detriment of those affected (think back to the earthquake in Haiti, or tsunami that rocked Southeast Asia).

My generation could be the first to see an end to extreme poverty. We just need to make bold commitments towards curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating the impacts of climate change, so natural disasters and extreme weather don’t block all of our progress.

3. Increased water stress

A woman fetches water in Nashik, Maharashtra, India. | Amit Rawat

As climate patterns change, people living in Africa will be hit the hardest with increased water stress.

Just five years from now, an additional 75-250 million Africans are projected to experience less water availability due to climate change.

4. Threats to infrastructure and livelihoods

This is what New York City could look like. Pretty terrifying, because I live in the upper right corner of the image. | Flickr: Andrea Della Adriano

We’ve all seen the terrifying images of today’s cities submerged in water. It might seem far away, but across the globe sea levels are rising due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Some people have already been displaced for this reason, and the Nature Conservancy reports that tens of millions of people in low-lying areas, especially in developing countries, could be displaced due to rising sea levels.

In Africa alone, 70 million people and 30% of the Africa's coastal infrastructure could face the risk of coastal flooding by 2080.

And East, Southeast, and South Asia are particularly vulnerable as well. The Guardian reports, “This combination of a high-risk region and the special vulnerability of cities make coastal Asian urban centres likely flashpoints for future conflict and hardship as the planet warms up this century.”

5. Risks to human health

A malaria net in Ethiopia. | Flickr: Matt Handy

This one should be a no-brainer- just put it all together. As people are exposed to poorer air quality, limited access to food and water, changes in temperature, and extreme weather, human health will obviously decrease. I’m less concerned about myself because I live walking distance from a health clinic and I have reliable health insurance, but not all people can say the same. Particularly those living in extreme poverty.

I just spoke very generally of the risks to human health, so let me share a more tangible example. Experts project that previously malaria-free highlands could experience a resurgence by the 2050s, and an additional 260-320 million people worldwide could be living in malaria-infested areas by 2080.

This is serious stuff, especially for people living in countries with limited access to health care.

Now for some good news.

This year we have enormous potential to protect our planet and its people, and I want you to be involved.

In September, the UN will agree on a new global development to-do list (the Sustainable Development Goals, or “SDGs”) that will pick up where the last to-do list from 2000 left off (known as the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs). Then, in December, the UN Climate Change Conference will set new climate action targets, which are vital in combating climate change.

That’s where Action/2015 comes in. Action/2015 is a citizen’s movement of hundreds of organizations around the world demanding truly ambitious agreements on poverty, inequality and climate change in 2015. Global Citizen has joined the movement and we want you to be a part of it.