Climate Change, Epidemics and Equality

Belinda Archibong and Francis Annan


What are the links between climate change, epidemics and socioeconomic inequality? While recent epidemics have focused attention on the effects of epidemics on economic outcomes, and a separate literature in climate science and environmental health has linked global environmental change to increased incidence of epidemics of infectious disease, there’s relatively little work connecting these two literatures. We explore the links between climate change, epidemics and group-based inequality by first reviewing the scientific literature modeling the effects of global warming on epidemics of infectious disease. We highlight the ways in which climate variables like temperature, precipitation and wind speeds, and adaptive human behavior like migration may more easily facilitate the spread of infectious disease. We then examine the effects of climate-induced epidemics on gender inequality using evidence from the African meningitis belt. The results show that epidemics can worsen outcomes for groups in already relatively economically precarious circumstances, thereby widening group-based socioeconomic inequality. Effective polices to combat the negative effects of epidemics must be mindful not to increase existing group-based inequalities, and aim to reduce these inequalities by minimizing damage for members of the most marginalized groups in societies.

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Conditionally accepted at the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.