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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


May/June 2008

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Editorial - The CDM: A Mechanism for Eliminating Poverty?

Poverty has been part of the human condition for so long that it sometimes seems inevitable that it will be with us forever. Leading thinkers, however, reject that notion: indeed, the UN member states pledged, as part of the Millennium Development Goals, to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” with its first target to cut the incidence of these problems in half by 2015.

The United States has made some progress toward this goal, with a gentle decline from 12.6 percent of the population living below the poverty line in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. More dramatically, the percentage of people classified as “extremely poor” in developing countries dropped from 40 to 18 percent between 1981 and 2004, and the number of people living on less than one dollar shrank from 1,470 million to 969 million in the same time period.  

However, these overall figures hide some disturbing facts. In the United States, the rate of poverty in the poorest group, blacks, remained level between 2005 and 2006 at a very high 24.3 percent. And while the worldwide picture from 1981 to 2004 improved, in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of poor people almost doubled from 168 million to 298 million, while the percentage stayed roughly the same at 41 percent.  

Presented with these numbers, most people would find them unacceptable. So it is disturbing to find, in a fascinating article by Alexander Bozmoski, Maria Carmen Lemos, and Emily Boyd in this issue, that the Clean Development Mechanism developed in the Kyoto Protocol has worked well in achieving its goal of reducing emissions—but hardly at all in its second aim of stimulating the development necessary to eliminate some of these pockets of poverty. The authors provocatively suggest this failing mechanism be more explicitly linked to the Millennium Development Goals to improve its abysmal sustainability record, advice that some understandably may dismiss as improbable. To be sure, the mechanism was not intended to further progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. However, it is crucially important to include every single human being in the development process. To this end, we must not squander our vital—and thankfully vast—opportunities to entwine the processes we use to reduce carbon emissions with the elimination of poverty wherever it exists.

—Alan H. McGowan

1.    U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, Poverty: 2006 Highlights, (accessed 31 March 2008).
2.    R. W. Kates and P. Dasgupta, “African Poverty: A Grand Challenge for Sustainability Science,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 194, no. 43 (2007): 16747–50.
3.    U.S. Census Bureau, note 1 above.
4.    Kates and Dasgupta, note 2 above.

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