Economic Trends

Poverty and the Environment: The Role of Social Protection and Payment for Ecological Services

22 Mar 2024

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IBAN: 978-9948-759-95-9

AED 20

In low- and middle-income countries, poverty is often the driving factor behind environmental degradation, as people in rural areas seek to sustain a livelihood where returns are often at the margin. The burden of climate change, however, will fall most heavily on developing countries with the result being those who are most affected by climate change are those with the least resources to cope. Even in the absence of a climate emergency, natural disasters can be a driving force for pushing people into poverty by destroying livelihood-dependent assets and the infrastructure necessary for economic activity.

Social protection is an intervention that seek to reduce and prevent poverty and protect the most vulnerable. While its application predates the climate change imperative, recent variations have been successfully applied to mitigate and protect against climate change and environmental disasters. This includes Payment for Environmental Services (PES), Public Employment Programs(PEPs), and Cash Transfers (CTs).

Four case studies are presented that illustrate how these different social protection instruments are applied in varied settings around the world. In Bangladesh, growing population pressures have created overfishing of the popular Hilsa shad. The ECOFISH-BD project is a PES intervention that offers in-kind assistance to fishers in the form of rice in exchange for adherence to specific fishing controls including the declaration of sanctuaries; the regulation of illegal fishing gear; a fishing ban on catching juvenile fish in March-April each year; and a 22-day fishing ban on brood hilsa in October each year.

In South Africa, a PEP known as ‘Working for Water’ addresses the threat that alien invasive plants pose to the country’s biological diversity and water security. As a water-scarce country, alien tree and plant species are known to extract more water from a watershed system than indigenous varieties. The program also addresses the country’s high levels of unemployment by creating temporary jobs applying labour- intensive methods of clearing alien vegetation.