For more than a decade, it has been relatively well-known that climate change and poverty are inextricably linked. As global temperatures rise, people living in poverty tend to be the most impacted, which ranges from where they live to the type of healthcare they receive. As climate change deepens inequalities within a country, it also deepens the inequalities between nations where poorer nations tend to have fewer resources to deal with these problems.
Also well-known is the fact that climate change contributes to toxic air and water pollution, which poses severe risks for human health. New research led by a team of political scientists and anthropologists at the University of Notre Dame sought to understand the relationship between toxic pollution and climate change, and confirmed that, yes, there is a link between climate change and toxic pollution and that this relationship negatively affects human health.
Data were analyzed from three public data sets: Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP). Data from over 176 countries was analyzed and the results suggest that there is a strong relationship between global climate risk and toxic pollution. Specifically, that the countries assumed to be the most at risk for the impact of climate change also tended to be those facing the highest risks of toxic pollution.
The effect of these risk factors on human health is substantial, as warming temperatures often contribute to heat stress and other heat-related health issues. The study found that the countries who are most at risk include the poorest and least developed, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, and the Central African Republic.
Given that a larger percentage of the global population lives in countries that are at a higher risk of toxic pollution, understanding how to mitigate risk is crucial to protecting human health. Countries that face higher toxic pollution and other climate risks tend to lack institutional resources to address these problems, and there is a pressing need for an increase in institutional development.
Many argue that climate change is quickly reaching a tipping point, meaning that that it may soon be true that the environment and climate which has represented most of human history may soon become unattainable. Some recent efforts, such as the Paris Climate Accord, are working to reform human behavior in the hopes of mitigating some of the effects from climate change and have found some success. However, in order to lessen the effects of climate change and the associated toxic pollutants, and therefore preserve human health for both the richest and poorest nations, we must continue to make broad, sweeping changes in human behavior.