The Social Cost of Climate Change in Brazil

Spotlight Activity: The Social Cost of Climate Change in Brazil

Climate change is a propelling force for social inequalities and vulnerability for the poor. Although the effects of climate change are felt differently across the globe, it is possible to affirm that poor and developing countries, which do not have strong social protection systems and policies, will suffer the most. Moreover, people most affected by climate change are those on the edges of society, depending heavily on natural resources and having limited adaptation capabilities, such as indigenous and riverside populations, small farmers, and the homeless.

Per the 2006 United Nations Development Program Report, the impacts of climate change on poorer populations have five main drivers: 

  1. Services and environmental property: Goods supplied by ecosystems are the main source of income and consumption for the poor. They tend to depend heavily on what nature provides, from food to housing construction material. Once global warming affects local ecosystems, these ecosystems will no longer be able to provide these communities with their basic needs. 
  2. Water: Drought is a reality in the Brazilian northeastern region. Climate change tends to accelerate the desertification process of this region. Lack of water does not only impact agricultural production, but also herding activity, sanitation systems, and the emergence of diseases. 
  3. Agriculture and Nutritional Safety: Agricultural productivity will suffer from both an intensifying process of desertification and more frequent occurrences of floods, hail, and frosts. Additional effects such as the change in soil composition and ocean currents impact the nutritional safety of those populations with less resources and those that depend directly on familiar farming. 
  4. Health: Climate change tends to raise vulnerability of less resourceful communities, both directly (e.g. tragedies such as slides and heat waves) and indirectly (e.g. through increases in tropical diseases such as yellow fever). 
  5. Migration and conflicts: Brazil is a multi-diverse land, with several different realities co-habiting the same country. It is highly common to see migrants from poorer regions (such as the Northeast) forced by climate change to move to larger cities searching for professional opportunities that sometimes are non-existent. 

Per the Demographics Census of 2010 (the latest in Brazil), the nomenclature “environmental refugees” started to be used to describe forced population displacements arising from extreme weather conditions. According to the study “Minha Vida É Andar Por Esse País…”: A Emigração Recente No Semiárido Setentrional, Políticas Sociais E Meio Ambiente (The Recent Emigration From The Brazilian Semiarid Northern Region, Social Policies And Environment), those that leave their area of origin claiming that it is due to extreme weather conditions are young (from 20 to 34 years old), without labor rights, and are not supported by social programs. This study shows that from 2007 to 2010, the region in Brazil that is most affected by drought and extreme weather and whose economy relies the most on social programs and income transfer, saw a migration balance of 206,000 people, 1.45% of the region’s total population. It is, however, important to highlight that this study did not find drought and extreme weather conditions to be more relevant for a person to decide to leave their area of origin than the presence of local employment opportunities and social programs.

Status: Standing Still

Although efforts have been made in order to lessen the needs and vulnerability of those most affected by climate change (e.g: São Francisco River’s transposal) this is not enough for guaranteeing that local communities are safe and resilient against climate change events. Moreover, it is important to notice that the area most vulnerable to both transition and physical climate risks are those least economically developed.

Take Action

To the Minister of Economics, Mr. Paulo Guedes

Dear Minister, the most powerful tool to enhance a location’s resilience to climate events is investing in local development, whether in the form of infrastructure or social (education, health, and basic needs). Therefore, in order to prevent the local communities of those areas most affected by drought from climate related risks, you need to ensure that these populations find enough conditions to adapt to a reality the world is facing. That said, we ask you for a higher engagement in local development, whether coming from federal funding or from market developed actions.

Send Action Alert Message to:

Ministries Esplanade

Ministry of Economy

Block P – 5th floor

Phone: (61) 3412-2515 / 1721


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