It's the Most Vulnerable Who Are Hit First and Worst

We simply cannot end hunger and poverty without tackling climate change. The new global goals recognize this and world leaders must also.
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We used to think about the impacts of global warming as something happening in the distant future. But the reality is that communities around the world are dealing with it today.

From Ethiopia to Bangladesh, from Peru to our own Gulf Coast, we have witnessed the shocking damage from droughts, floods, and extreme weather associated with climate change. And as the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have shown right here in the United States, it's the poorest and most vulnerable who are hit first and worst.

Women are particularly vulnerable, as they often have access to less education and fewer resources, making it more difficult for them to cope when disaster does strike.

The reality is that climate change is set to reverse, in no time, decades of hard-won progress in the fight against poverty around the world. And it is already making our battle to overcome poverty harder and more expensive. As the world leaders gather in New York next week to commit themselves to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, it's key that they are also committing themselves to fighting climate change.

That's because we simply cannot end hunger and poverty without tackling climate change. The new global goals recognize this and world leaders must also. And it's up to us to hold them accountable to the promises they make in New York and urge them to bring about a strong global deal on climate at the negotiations in Paris in December.

I got a first hand look at the negative impacts of climate change while visiting rice farmers in the Takeo region of Cambodia with Oxfam America. I also met some amazing women who took things in their own hands to make sure they can continue putting food on the table for their families, despite the challenges of climate change.

By following a special technique to grow rice called System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and support from Oxfam, the women farmers I met were able to produce up to 150 percent more rice with less water and less labor. The technique involves using less seed, water, fertilizer, but is growing more rice! Planting each seedling individually in rows also helps farmers use a mechanical weeder that I also got to try out, so they can save time and use less water to flood the field to control weeds.

This technique allows farmers to grow rice plants with stronger roots, which helps the plants withstand heavy winds and rain without falling over and breaking. And they are less vulnerable to destructive pests. Farmers growing SRI rice save money since they have to use less pesticides, which also means less dangerous greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rice is an essential source of food for millions of poor farming families in Cambodia, but more than half of them have only small plots of land -- usually less than 2.5 acres (one hectare). Most farmers can't irrigate their land and are constrained to one rice crop per year, during the rainy season. This makes rice farmers here vulnerable: a disaster like flooding can wipe out a harvest and leave a family with no food for the winter. But with SRI, farmers have a means of fighting back.

And it's not just in Cambodia. Rice cultivation is deeply rooted in the lives of billions of people around the world. In fact, half of the world's people get sustenance from rice. And one billion people are engaged in growing rice. Imagine the possibilities if they all took up SRI!

While we must all work hard to reduce emissions, we must also help those who are fighting on the front-lines of climate change, like the farmers I met in Cambodia.

Whether it's building coastal tree barriers or developing early-warning systems, adaptation solutions are real and attainable. SRI is one of the many examples of what our international community should invest in urgently. Helping the poorest cope with the negative impacts of climate change is not only the right thing to do; it's what's needed to bring about a global climate deal and to realize the global goals.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 13.

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