The Climate Implications of Ending Global Poverty

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Previous studies have explored potential conflicts between ending poverty and limiting global warming, by focusing on the carbon emissions of the world’s poorest. This paper instead focuses on economic growth as the driver of poverty alleviation and estimates the emissions associated with the growth needed to eradicate poverty. With this framing, eradicating poverty requires not only increasing the consumption of poor people, but also the consumption of non-poor people in poor countries. Even in this more pessimistic framing, the global emissions increase associated with eradicating extreme poverty is small, at 2.37 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide in 2050, or 4.9 percent of 2019 global emissions. These additional emissions would not materially affect the global climate change challenge: global emissions would need to be reduced by 2.08 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide per year, instead of the 2.0 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide per year needed in the absence of any extreme poverty eradication. Lower inequality, higher energy efficiency, and decarbonization of energy can significantly ease this trade-off: assuming the best historical performance in all countries, the additional emissions for poverty eradication are reduced by 90 percent. Therefore, the need to eradicate extreme poverty cannot be used as a justification for reducing the world’s climate ambitions. When trade-offs exist, the eradication of extreme poverty can be prioritized with negligible emissions implications. The estimated emissions of eradicating poverty are 15.3 percent of 2019 emissions with the lower-middle-income poverty line at $3.65 per day and or 45.7 percent of 2019 emissions with the $6.85 upper-middle-income poverty line. The challenge to align the world’s development and climate objectives is not in reconciling extreme poverty alleviation with climate objectives but in providing middle-income standards of living in a sustainable manner.
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Wollburg, Philip; Hallegatte, Stephane; Mahler, Daniel Gerszon. 2023. The Climate Implications of Ending Global Poverty. Policy Research Working Papers;10318. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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