Book summary: Climate Change and Human Development

Article, 27 July 2017

A wide-ranging book looks at how climate change is impacting the world's poorest communities.

This book brings together the work of leading international development and environment organisations in studying the impacts of climate change on poor communities and how they are learning to adapt and build their resilience.

The Working Group on Climate Change and Development, otherwise known as the Up in Smoke group, was set up by IIED and the new economics foundation (nef) in 2003. The group linked leading international development NGOs with organisations working on environmental issues. 

The coalition conducted research, organised events and issued a series of reports to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on the world's poorest people. This wide-ranging book collates their work. 


The opening chapter summarises the unfolding of climate change and its impacts on climate around the world. 

The main part of the book comprises 11 chapters outlining the impacts of climate change, focusing on topics such as food and farming, water, health, the natural environment, migration and conflict. Each chapter describes how global warming is already affecting rural and urban communities, as well as likely future impacts. 

The chapters feature short case studies showing how people in developing countries are already being affected by climate change – and, crucially, how they are finding responses to the challenges they face. These real-world stories bring a human face to global warming. They also show how the poorest and most climate vulnerable communities are finding ways to adapt to uncertainty and build their resilience to climate risk. 

The final chapter is entitled "What next?", and it looks at  how to find a new, climate-friendly and equitable model for human development. 

Four world-leading thinkers from poor countries were asked to contribute their thoughts on development in a climate-change-constrained world. The contributors are Professor Jayti Ghosh from India, Nobel Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai from Kenya and development economists Professor Manfred Max-Neef from Chile and David Woodward, based in Cambodia. 

The book ends with a call to action: 

"We have, in fact, much more choice abut our collective economic future than we have been led to believe. The challenge, it seems, is clear, and many of the solutions known. The task is now to act."


Reviewers have been very positive about Climate Change and Human Development:

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, wrote: "The Up in Smoke coalition was a remarkable coming-together of environment and development agencies; this book presents their findings, a powerful picture of a world in which climate change is becoming an ever more dangerous reality – and the people least responsible are suffering most from the consequences. But it also provides inspiring stories that show that human ingenuity and endeavour can still point ways to a better future for all this Earth's inhabitants."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu commented: "I am delighted that such a broad group of environment and development organisations, many of which are faith based, have come together to speak with a common voice, drawing attention to climate change in the African context. This report shows the strength and creativity of African people in times of stress. What is needed most now is that Africans are supported in their efforts to build on these strengths."

Academics and researchers also praised the book:

"Hannah Reid provides an illuminating human development perspective on a system in crisis. Documenting the efforts of the world's poor and most vulnerable to cope with and respond to the impact of global warming the book is a very readable account of a possible solution to a problem that is reaching global crisis proportions. A must read." – Henry Veltmeyer, professor of development studies, Saint Mary's University.

"This is an important book for several reasons. It shows that across all sectors and all countries, the livelihoods of the poorest are – today – being undermined by climate change. Yet at the same time the capacity not only to cope, but to build improved lives, resides within these communities, sometimes catalysed by the work of NGOs such as those in the Up In Smoke coalition. The central conclusion, that both development and adaptation must focus on strengthening communities from the bottom up and build opportunities for participation in policy making, is an urgent message." – Jonathan Ensor, senior researcher, Stockholm Environment Institute.

"This grounded analysis of climate change's impact around the world, rich in perspectives from both rural and urban contexts, shows why we must urgently squeeze carbon out of global energy and economic systems. The book brings together the collective wisdom of the Up in smoke coalition, and argues for rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and the alternative framing of growth and development. Must read Reid!" - Camilla Toulmin, director, IIED.

"Whilst there is a clear moral and ethical dilemma that the world's poorest, and least responsible for carbon production, are bearing and will continue to bear the brunt of climate change impacts, this positive and timely book uses case studies that remind us there are new models of human development coming from those most impacted, that can guide us in both our adaptation and our mitigation efforts" – Professor Julian Agyeman, Tufts University.

The wide-ranging and highly readable book will be a useful teaching resource, as well as providing an excellent introduction to a general audience. 

Climate Change and Human Development

By Hannah Reid, (2014), available to purchase from Zed Books, 304 pages, paperback (ISBN: 9781780324401)/eBook ePub (ISBN: 9781780324432)

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