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 2013/14, 95,000 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 that 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 temporary settlements, 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.


What is climate change?

Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that 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. In the last 20 years in particular, there has been an increase in some kinds of extreme weather events, notably erratic rainfall, contributing to floods and droughts, as well as rising sea levels and seasonal unpredictability. 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 ten 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 floods in Bangladesh. Climatic hazards 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 results in a global deal that 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. Oxfam believes it's vital that greenhouses gas emissions are cut dramatically (by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels) in order to limit global warming to as far below 2°C as possible.

Why do we need to limit global warming to 2°C?

The global average temperature has risen almost 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels. It's already causing serious climate change impacts for millions of people. If global temperatures rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, 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 that 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.

Shouldn't we wait until the global financial crisis is resolved?

The battle to halt the current financial crisis is not separate to the fight against climate change. A new, green economy can create jobs while reducing carbon emissions. It does mean making tough decisions, but that's part of the deal already in this economic climate. The two must go together.

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 10-15 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.

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

Yes, but their impact is miniscule. For a start, only a tiny proportion of Fairtrade goods are transported by air. The vast majority are shipped, which has a much lower carbon footprint. Fairtrade also promotes sustainable agricultural practices and encourages farmers to invest in environmental protection programmes too, which reduces emissions at farm level.

Given that Fairtrade products make such an overwhelmingly positive contribution to poor producers' livelihoods, and make a negligible contribution to climate change, Oxfam does not believe that the poorest and least responsible people should pay first for the need to lower global CO2 emissions.

The first things we can do are to change what we do in our homes, how we travel, and how we make governments more responsible in tackling climate change.

What's the difference between global warming and climate change?

While the meanings of climate change and global warming are, in most cases, interchangeable, Oxfam generally prefers the term 'climate change' over global warming. This is because the effects of global warming are not limited to increasing temperatures - they also include sea level rise, acidification of oceans, and changes in rainfall patterns. While millions of poor people are experiencing more intense drought, millions more are suffering from other extreme weather and climatic events, such as floods and rising sea levels.

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 in the field are reflected in our campaigning and lobbying work. We are still campaigning for a fair and binding global deal, demanding action to:

  • Reduce emissions.
  • Enable vulnerable countries and communities to adapt to climate change - including an international climate fund.
  • Push for a global move towards low-carbon economies.

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

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