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Climate change

Despite doing the least to cause it, poor people are experiencing the full force of climate change. Oxfam is working to reduce the impact of global warming - now and in the future.

In 2016/17, 85,000 people benefited from innovative responses to climate change.

 We can now produce and gather seeds during a flood


Marta, talking about an Oxfam-funded, flood-resistant farming method in Bolivia.

The issue


Life is already a struggle for poor communities. But climate change is making things so much harder. Droughts and floods are becoming increasingly frequent, while growing seasons are more and more unpredictable. It means millions of people are going hungry.

People living in poverty are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change for many reasons. They're often forced to live in makeshift homes, on land prone to flooding, storms and landslides. Making a living is hard - so few will have savings to fall back on in an emergency. And when disasters strike, poor diet, sanitation and health care mean that diseases spread rapidly.

FAQs

What is climate change?

Science shows there have been changes in the global climate since the early 1900s, and that these climate changes, and future climate change predicted over the next century, are largely due to human activities and excessive greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming up the Earth. This is climate change, often referred to as "global warming". 

Is climate change really happening?

Yes. The 5 years from 2014 - 2018 were the hottest 5 years on record and there has been an increase in extreme weather events, such as floods, storms and droughts, as well as rising sea levels and disruption in the growing seasons such as erratic rainfall. 

The results of these climate changes are failed harvests, disappearing islands, destroyed homes, water scarcity and deepening health crises. 

And that means millions upon millions of people who were already struggling are finding it even more difficult to get food, water and shelter.

Why is Oxfam working on climate change?

Because the effects of global climate change are already having a devastating impact on people's lives.

Extreme weather events are destroying homes, schools, crops and animals - the foundations of everyday life. 

Climate change is also throwing the seasons out of sync, causing crops to fail and water supplies to dry up. 

Extreme weather is pushing people backwards as they strive for progress. In short, Oxfam works on the causes and effects of climate change because the people we work with are being hit first and worst - and it seems that worse is to come.

When did Oxfam start working on climate change?

Oxfam has been concerned about climate change for more than 25 years.

In 1983, Oxfam produced Weather Alert, a briefing paper that recorded the human impacts of various climate anomalies affecting our programmes around the world. 

In 1992, Oxfam discussed the special threat that climate change posed to people living in poverty, along with other environmental crises highlighted at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Brazil. 

For the last fifteen years Oxfam has been increasing its work around climate change. So much of our work and expertise - for example, preparing for and responding to disasters, or helping farmers get better yields from their crops - is now inextricably linked with the changing climate.

Is climate change already having an impact on Oxfam's work?

Yes. 

Oxfam staff and partners are seeing how poor people are being hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change, despite being least responsible. 

The people we work with are reporting ever-changing and unpredictable weather patterns, which contribute to deeper and longer lasting floods in South Asia; irregular rainfall in Mozambique, or hotter temperatures that are melting glaciers in Bolivia and Tajikistan

Because of all this, so much of our work now needs to include the impact of the changing climate.

What is Oxfam doing about climate change?

We're already helping people cope with severe weather events, as well as plan for the consequences of future climate change. Like everything we do, our climate change work focuses on three core areas:



  • Humanitarian
    We're constantly responding to disasters such as the 2018 floods in Kerala and the unprecedented Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa in 2019. Climate-related emergencies like these are expected to increase in frequency over the coming years and decades. What's more, we're making sure these communities are better prepared for extreme weather events in the future too. That means things like raising homes up on stilts, or improving early warning systems for when disasters strike.
  • Development
    Helping communities adapt to climate change is a key part of our development work. In Thailand, rice farmers are innovating with on-farm water-harvesting systems for irrigation and are diversifying their crops to protect their livelihoods against drought. And in Pakistan, we are supporting farmers to reclaim fields damaged by salt water and helping them get fresh water for their fields and for household use.
  • Campaigning
    We're demanding urgent and decisive action on climate change from world leaders - action that limits global temperature rise to 1.5C and is fair for all people, not just those with power and money.

What does 'climate change mitigation' mean?

Climate change mitigation means reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Science shows that to meet the goals in the Paris Climate Agreement, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut to "net-zero" soon after mid-century. 

And a key principle of global cooperation on climate change is that the wealthiest countries most responsible for causing climate change, and with the greatest capacity to act, must cut emissions furthest and fastest. 

Along with The Climate Coalition, Oxfam is pushing the UK government to commit to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the very latest.

Why do we need to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

The global average temperature has risen almost 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. It's already causing serious climate change impacts for millions of people. 

If global temperatures rise to 3°C above pre-industrial levels (which is what current global pledges amount to), the impact on water resources, food production, sea levels, and ecosystems is predicted to be catastrophic for billions of people. 

At that point, scientists believe climate change would begin to have an overwhelmingly negative impact on societies worldwide, and on the ecosystems on which we all depend, with a heightened risk of extreme climatic events resulting in extreme droughts, floods and heat waves.

What is net-zero emissions?

Net-zero means we should only be producing the same amount of emissions that we are able to offset at home.

In order to get to 'net-zero', nations will need to reduce their Greenhouse gas emissions to an absolute minimum, and then remove any remaining emissions from the atmosphere. Oxfam believes the UK government should reach net-zero by 2045 at the latest.  

Does Oxfam support international offsetting?

Offsetting our emissions by purchasing carbon credits from other countries is not a substitute for reducing our own emissions to an absolute minimum.

By 2045, Oxfam believes that the UK should only be producing the same amount of emissions that we are able to offset at home through - for example regreening schemes and negative emissions technologies. 

We do not support international carbon offsetting because the primary schemes to remove emissions require large amounts of land - so if relied on at scale would invariably drive land grabs and result in poor farmers competing for land, putting food security at risk in areas where people are already going hungry.   

Oxfam supports the recommendation by CLARA (Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance) that 'negative emissions' strategies should focus on "safe" removals through ecosystem restoration, agro-ecology and reforestation.

Will Oxfam continue to work on climate change?

Absolutely. This is a long-term issue for Oxfam and ultimately the number one threat to overcoming poverty and suffering.

Is nuclear power the solution to climate change? 

In general, we believe energy solutions must: 


  • Be consistent with an urgent and radical shift to a low carbon future consistent with what action on climate change requires;
  • Contribute to delivering modern energy services to the billions of people around the world who do not currently have access to them; and 
  • Be cost-effective under conditions that ensure the above. 

On all three counts, nuclear power is not one of these. 

Nuclear energy generation cannot currently be installed fast enough over the next few years, when low carbon alternatives are required. 

Quite apart from the problems of nuclear waste and security risks, nuclear energy is also a very expensive form of energy that is not without its own carbon footprint. 

What about emissions from food, clothes and other products that come from other countries? 

The latest annual data shows that the UK's consumption emissions (which includes the emissions occurring in other countries to produce the food we buy, manufacture the products that end up on our shelves, and for our international travel) remain high, whilst emissions that happen in the UK have decreased.  

As consumers we can all help by consuming less, choosing products with a low environmental impact, and putting pressure on the companies we purchase from to work towards a zero-emissions future. Our government must also help by acknowledging these emissions, and prioritising policies to tackle them, e.g. by making it easier for people to reduce, reuse and recycle.   

Do Fairtrade products contribute to emissions because they come from developing countries? 

Fairtrade promotes sustainable agricultural practices and encourages farmers to invest in environmental protection programmes, which reduces emissions at farm level. Only a tiny proportion of Fairtrade goods are transported by air. The vast majority are shipped, which has a much lower carbon footprint.  

More will need to be done to reduce the impact of these products further, however Oxfam does not believe that the poorest and least responsible people should shoulder the costs of the need to lower global CO2 emissions, and that rich countries need to act urgently to reduce our impact now.  

How does coal affect climate change? 

Fossil fuels account for more than 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Pollution from coal-fired power stations is responsible for half of these emissions - making it the single biggest driver of climate change on the planet. 

Pollution from coal-fired power stations builds up in the atmosphere and warms the climate, leading to extreme weather events and unpredictable seasons. There's an obvious environmental cost. But the human cost is also rising at a terrifying rate. 

Does Oxfam think that coal power plants should be phased out? 

The UK government has committed to completely phase out coal power by 2025 - thanks in part to campaigning by thousands of Oxfam supporters. 

Globally it is time to end the use of coal power. No more coal power plants should be built. 

Oxfam research shows that every dollar invested in coal in Asia, for example, will mean $10 in damage in Asia alone from climate change. Health costs from the effects of pollution come on top of this. 

Do poorer countries need money to help them cope with climate change? 

Yes. World leaders agreed to deliver $100bn per year in 'Climate Finance' to developing countries by 2020 and Oxfam is campaigning to hold them to this promise.  

The need for financial support to the world's poorest countries and communities that have done the least to cause climate change - yet are suffering its worst effects - is urgent and rising. 

The UK's commitment to climate finance has a pivotal role to play in supporting developing countries to pursue low-carbon development pathways and to adapt to the brutal climate impacts they are already facing.  

The UK government has one of the better records on Climate Finance, although no government is doing enough, and we're pushing them all to scale up climate finance in line with their commitments. 

Members of the public can donate to Oxfam climate change projects here.  

How can you be against coal when it is a cheap and essential way for poor countries to develop? 

Coal is the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. 

It's causing climate change and pushing people further into hunger. 

It's not the answer to the challenges faced by millions of people living in poverty today. 

Even now, in sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the population has no electricity, almost a third of health facilities have no energy access and half of all vaccines are ruined due to a lack of refrigeration.

Renewable energy provides lots more opportunities to make the power supply more accessible for people living beyond the electricity grid. For example, it costs half as much to power a hospital with solar energy compared with a diesel generator. And a school could save up to 60% on energy bills just by switching from diesel to wind power. 

Rich countries, who are most responsible for climate change, must ensure that financial and technological support is available for poorer countries to make the most of these new opportunities - and then the sky's the limit. 

What about China and India? Aren't they the worst offenders? 

This is a commonly held view, but let's put it into perspective. 

Per capita CO2 emissions in the UK are around three times higher than per capita emissions in India. 

Chinese per capita emissions are similar to the UK, and less than half of per capita emissions in the US. However, a large amount of China's emissions come from producing goods for the West. 

When we include these in our carbon footprint, i.e. when we count our consumption emissions (see above) rather than our territorial emissions, the average UK citizen is responsible for 8.5 tonnes of CO2, compared to about 6.3 tonnes for the average Chinese citizen - and has a carbon footprint roughly five times larger than the average Indian citizen.  

Climate change is a global problem and all countries need to be part of the solution. However the wealthiest countries - like the UK - which have historically contributed most to climate change and have the greatest capacity to act, will be expected to lead by example.  

Right now, China is trialling emissions trading schemes and has implemented plans to limit coal. 

The country is already the world's largest investor in renewable energy and has pledged to generate more than a third of its electricity from non-fossil sources by 2020. 

India projects it will have no need to begin constructing new coal-fired power plants over the next decade, and has pledged to create 100 GW of solar power by 2022 - a move that will double the amount of solar power in the world.  

What is Oxfam's view on fracking? 

The longer we fund new ways of extracting fossil fuels, the longer we delay a shift to low carbon energy. Until we prioritise renewable energy sources, climate change and global hunger will continue to get worse. 

What we're doing

Reducing the risks

Tackling climate change is a vital part of Oxfam's work, especially as it threatens to reverse many of the advances made in tackling poverty over previous decades. So we help people to understand and adapt to the changes they're facing, and to reduce risks from hazards.

We work with local communities, bringing together the things that we do best - linking people to the support and skills they need for a positive and sustainable future. We invest in poor communities' knowledge, skills and resources to not only cope with a changing climate, but thrive.

And we employ some great ideas and innovative thinking to help people adapt:

  • In South Africa - farmers are planting faster-maturing crops, making the most of less-reliable rains.
  • In Vietnam - communities are planting dense mangroves along the coast, to diffuse storm waves.

Campaigning for action

Our experiences with our partners in the global south are reflected in our campaigning and lobbying work. We are campaigning for fair and urgent action on climate change that will:

  • Reduce emissions in order to keep global warming under 1.5C.
  • Enable vulnerable countries and communities to adapt to climate change - including an international climate fund.
  • Bring about a global move towards net-zero carbon economies.

We believe that climate change can be tackled, and disaster avoided, if world leaders act together, and act now.

Donate to Oxfam's work in the UK

Make a donation and support our work to tackle food poverty, reduce food waste, and find long lasting solutions to the underlying causes of poverty in the UK.

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You may also be interested in:

Policy & Practice

More about climate change

on our Policy & Practice website.

Other issues we work on