Climate Inequality in Tanzania

By Felicity Checksfield – Art in Tanzania internship

What is climate inequality?

Climate inequality refers to the unequal distribution of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the unequal distribution of the effects of climate change. In an Oxfam report, it was revealed that the poorest 50% of the global population contribute to only 10% of total CO2 global emissions yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change (Oxfam, 2015). Contrastingly, the richest 10% of the global population can be attributed to 50% of emissions.

In a world where the top 10% of the population is responsible for 34% of house-hold related carbon emissions, it is clear that there exists a correlation between the amount of money available to a community and their subsequent emissions (Hubacek et al, 2017). In the 2017 report, it was revealed that the average carbon footprint of the lowest income category in the world is 1.6 tons per day but drastically increases to 17.9 tons per day for the highest income category. Consequently, the average carbon footprint of the global elites is about 11 times as high as the carbon footprint of the lowest expenditure group.

Climate change is consequently causing a disproportionate impact on developing countries, particularly small island states and low-lying counties. This raises profound justice issues as the contribution of these states to climate change is very small (Ataputtu, 2018). The resource intensive lifestyles in the global north has contributed to the appropriation of the global South’s resources. This has caused harmful economic and environmental consequences in these regions and has trapped Southern nations in vicious cycles of poverty and environmental degradation (Gonzalez, 2015)

How does climate inequality effect Tanzania?

Multiple stressors make Tanzanians highly vulnerable to predicted climate change impacts. The country is projected to warm by 2-4°C by 2100. Rainfall is predicted to decrease by about 20% in the inner parts of the country, with dry seasons becoming longer and drier. In contrast, rainfall may increase by up to 50% in the northeast and southeast (Hulme et al. 2001). Climate change has disastrous impacts on food production, forests, water resources, human settlements, and human health. This is especially disastrous to rural Tanzanian communities whose livelihoods depend on already risky primary production agricultural sources. The average income levels in the country are among the lowest in the world and a lack of access to technological alternatives accentuate their vulnerability.

Vulnerable communities

It is generally accepted that certain groups within states are also disproportionately affected due to historic marginalization and inequities. Women, children and indigenous peoples, those who are living in poverty, and those who are forced to migrate as a result of climate change are among those groups. The Paris Climate Agreement 2015 identified several categories of vulnerable people. These included indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children and persons with disabilities (Preamble).

In Tanzania, the vulnerability of these groups are particularly notable.


Rural groups

Climate change will adversely affect food production, energy and water supplies. These are all important preconditions of well-being for rural households.

Urban groups

In Dar es Salaam, two-thirds of the population (over two million people) live in flood-prone areas (UNEP 2002). With poor urban management, increased flooding as a result of extreme weather events makes these citizens incredibly vulnerable.

Women’s activities, such as tilling fields and collecting firewood and water, will be adversely affected by changing climate. More time will be needed for carrying out these activities and less will be left for other activities such as earning an income.


Nutritional deficiencies, illnesses, and a lack of education are all symptoms of a childhood effected by climate change. These can have irreversible consequences that can burden affected.

How is climate inequality being tackled?

Climate inequality is recognised and formally espoused in instruments of international environmental law and human rights. Article 3(1) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 introduced a relative capacity element, highlighting the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ of individual states.

This principle asserts that states that cause environmental harm should bear the primary responsibility for solutions and that richer states should take the lead and bear a greater burden because of their greater economic and technological capacity. This was explicitly acknowledged in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (Article 2(2)).

Steps are being taken within the international community to address the acute vulnerability of countries in this region. One of the key initiatives launched at the UN Climate Summit in September 2014 was the Extreme Climate Facility (XCF), developed by the African Risk Capacity (ARC). The aim of the XCF was to secure financing for African governments that would enable them to respond to the impacts of increased climate volatility (Dehm, 2020). Each African climatic region would be tracked for the frequency and magnitude of their extreme weather events. When the index exceeded pre-determined thresholds countries automatically received funds to support pre-determined adaptation plans.

This international financial support is not understood as compensation or reparation for the impacts of climate change from historical polluters, but rather as investments to bolster better climate adaptability. This is an important distinction to make. It is vital that appropriate reparations for climate inequality challenge the narrative of Northern states and NGOs as the “saviors” to Southern states. This narrative fails to address the complicity of Northern states in such human rights violations. A critical approach to climate inequality must explicitly address the historic and current causes of climate change, disrupt the savior-savage narrative, and ensure that the discourse appropriately addresses the deeper structural inequities that produce environmental injustice (Gonzalez, 2015).

How is climate inequality being tackled in Tanzania?

In Tanzania, a number of climate adaptation techniques have been developed by rural communities to mitigate the impact of climate inequality. Crop switching is the process whereby farmers plant rice or maize in years with adequate rains and switch to millet in dry years. The use of forest resources for generating cash income (making timber, charcoal, or bricks) in particularly dry seasons can help to mitigate the impact of potential crop failure.

However, adaptation plans, and measures must also alleviate the vulnerability of the most susceptible groups to climate change. Reactive measures, such as those above, are needed to respond to the immediate stresses and hazards of climate change. However, reducing immediate vulnerability is not enough. More systemic changes in governments and institutions are needed to bring about permanent reductions in vulnerabilities.

Effective environmental and social governance is needed for an effective adaptation to the changing climate in Tanzania. Certainly, if literacy rates and educational enrolment continue to decrease, the effectiveness of educational campaigns on climate change and health promotion may decrease. A broad commitment to public programs and spending on health and education is therefore paramount to tackling climate inequality.

To conclude, climate change is having a disastrous impact on communities in the global south, particularly those in eastern Africa. This is a matter of injustice as these communities are contributing the least to carbon emissions. As we have explored, efforts to redress this climate inequality must (a) explicitly address the particularly vulnerable groups to climate change as well as (b) provide a systemic and long-term adaptability framework that appropriately addresses the historic and current causes of climate change. This may come in the form of local schemes of adaptability, national financing mechanisms and better environmental and social governance.

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