Home » Social Protection and Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific
Asia Environment Featured Global News News

Social Protection and Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific

Asia and the Pacific is the most disaster-prone region globally, experiencing frequent natural hazards that have intensified due to climate change, resulting in significant human and economic costs. Since the 1970’s, an average of 43,000 people per year have lost their lives due to disasters. The economic cost of these disasters is estimated to be over $1.3 trillion since 1970. Storms, floods, and droughts are among the primary causes of disaster-related deaths in the region. Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent heatwaves caused by climate change are likely to further exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and destabilize ecological systems, with serious consequences for the region’s population.

Climate change intensifies inequalities, disproportionately affects populations in vulnerable situations and creates new intersecting vulnerabilities across different groups, including marginalized groups based on factors like gender, age, race, geographical location and disability among others. Workers in the informal economy, including agriculture, fisheries, construction, and tourism sectors are especially vulnerable, and are often less protected, without access to social protection. Women face added challenges due to gender norms and economic disadvantages making them more susceptible to climate-related risks and disasters. They may be expected to take care of children and the elderly during disasters, limiting their ability to respond to hazardous situations, as well as disproportionately work in sectors (e.g. agriculture) which are particularly exposed to climate change effects. The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need for inclusive and comprehensive approaches to address poverty and inequality and the effects of shocks and crisis.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, recognizes the importance of social protection in reducing climate impacts as well as in supporting mitigation and adaptation efforts. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the role of social protection in the context of climate change has been repeatedly acknowledged and is gaining popularity as an effective policy tool to ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth and a just transition in the wake of a changing climate.

Social protection plays a vital role in addressing the impact of climate change on employment and livelihoods. Climate-related hazards have led to an annual loss of 23 million working-life years between 2000 and 2015, with vulnerable groups being disproportionately affected. Social protection instruments like unemployment protection, social health protection, pensions, cash benefits, and public employment programs provide income security, access to healthcare, and can create job and income generating opportunities. Social protection systems not only have the potential to reduce poverty and inequality but also promote resilience, inclusive growth, and environmental sustainability. Robust social protection systems are effective tools for addressing life-cycle as well as climate-related risks and contingencies and are essential in safeguarding vulnerable communities.

The concept of a just transition has gained prominence in addressing the social aspects of climate change mitigation. It refers to a comprehensive and equitable approach to addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with transitioning to a more sustainable and net-zero economy. The Paris Agreement and subsequent UNFCCC COPs have emphasized the importance of just transitions, particularly in creating decent work and supporting workforce transition. Social protection plays a crucial role in safeguarding people during these transitions, but its relevance and potential role is often not being sufficiently taken into account when exploring policy options in this regard. Integrating social protection into policies addressing environmental impacts and transition challenges is essential for achieving cumulative and transformative outcomes that are required in the context of climate policies. Effective policy packages involve inclusive social dialogue, linking labor market policies with social protection, and developing National Just Transition Strategies.

Climate policies can be categorized into two main approaches: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation focuses on addressing the causes of climate change, while adaptation deals with managing its effects (Lambeau & Urban, 2023). These two approaches are interconnected and often complement each other. In addition, climate policies also recognize the need to respond to loss and damage that cannot be prevented through mitigation and adaptation and to build resilience around such events.

While mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is essential to address the climate crisis, such policies can have far-reaching effects, including potential job losses and shifts in economic structures. Vulnerable populations may face challenges during this transition, and social protection is crucial in ensuring an equitable “just” transition. The creation of climate-resilient economies is essential for social stability, and it is projected to create millions of new jobs. While some industries may decline, others, like sustainable energy and green construction, offer significant job opportunities. Social protection can play a protective, preventive, and transformative role in climate mitigation strategies, ensuring that marginalized communities are integrated into environmentally friendly shifts and helping manage workforce transitions. It can also enhance the acceptability of climate policies and improve environmental outcomes, making it a versatile tool in addressing climate change challenges.

Likewise, social protection plays a critical role in supporting climate change adaptation measures, helping societies and economies deal with the challenges posed by a changing climate. Social protection acts as a buffer against climate shocks, offering cash and food transfers to households affected by climate impacts. It also anticipates and prepares for risks, boosting savings and enhancing adaptive capacity. Furthermore, social protection can address the root causes of climate vulnerabilities and inequalities, supporting transformative actions like Payments for Environmental Services (PES) that simultaneously protect the environment and provide livelihood support.

Incorporating social protection into national climate change strategies, particularly through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), is essential for addressing climate-related vulnerabilities and ensuring inclusive, just transitions. While NDCs provide an opportunity to align climate actions with poverty reduction, gender equality, decent work, and inequality reduction, many countries in Asia and the Pacific currently lack consideration for these objectives. Only a small percentage of NDCs mention social protection to support climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Similarly, only a few countries have integrated social protection into their NAPs and there is potential for improvement.

To establish comprehensive, resilient, and shock or climate-responsive protection systems, expanding fiscal capacity from domestic resources as well as exploring synergies with Paris aligned investments is pivotal. Diversified financial strategies going beyond frameworks exclusively designed for social protection should aim to incorporate and better coordinate with alternative financing mechanisms, including climate and disaster financing and insurance mechanisms, and other forms of Paris aligned investments (e.g. Green Bonds, Climate Funds, etc.).

Social protection plays an important role in supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where many remain without adequate coverage. Sustainably expanding social protection is essential, with a focus on vulnerable groups, including informal workers, migrants, people with disabilities, and marginalized communities. To be effective, social protection systems must be rights-based, comprehensive, provide adequate benefits and uphold principles like universality and solidarity. Benefits will also have to take into account the heightened risks from climate change. Governments should explore synergies with disaster risk finance and Paris aligned investments like green bonds and climate funds. Climate-sensitive design, fiscal repurposing, and inclusion in national climate strategies are vital steps in crafting comprehensive, equitable social protection systems that address climate vulnerabilities and promote sustainable development. Gender-specific challenges must also be addressed to ensure effective climate adaptation and mitigation.

Source : Relief Web