ART: ISTOCK/ SI-GAL
Do you prefer to hear good news or bad news first? I will begin by giving you the (unsurprisingly) bad news. Today’s world is an unequal place. Standards of living vary massively both between and within countries. To narrow it down to its most blunt statistic, if you were born in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, your life expectancy is nearly double that of someone born in Swaziland, 84 and 49 years, respectively.
The good news is that in recent decades many global indicators of living standards have improved. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, a group of targets aimed at reducing poverty and raising living standards, were largely successful. Those living in extreme poverty dropped from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, the proportion of undernourished people in low-income countries fell from 23 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2014, and worldwide primary school enrollment has reached 90 percent. These statistics offer hope for a trajectory toward an equal world. There is more bad news, however, in that climate change threatens to undo this progress and create further inequity.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF LYNDSAY WALSH
Climate change will be the definitive challenge of the twenty-first century, yet it is largely pushed aside in discussions of policies to address inequality. If warming is not limited to 1.5˚C above preindus-trial levels, the results could nullify most, if not all, the progress made in reducing inequality. Climate change will further magnify existing inequality as low- and middle-income countries will bear the brunt of its impact. As rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, sea levels rise, and storms become more intense, the expected impacts on low-income countries are severe.