Climate change disproportionately impacts those already living at the margins. For people with disabilities, especially those living in lower-income countries who have contributed the least to the changing climate, they are among those most vulnerable to the growing climate crisis.

People with disabilities are four times more likely than those without disabilities to lose their lives as a result of climate-induced disasters. Poverty is a significant risk factor for increased vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, and people with disabilities are twice as likely to experience poverty than people without disabilities due to structural inequalities and discriminatory attitudes. As a result, they are more likely to live in inadequate housing and climate exposed settlements, such as urban slums and flood-prone riverbanks or coastal areas, and less likely to be able to move to safety.

Climate change can also lead to or add to disability. In addition to injuries and impairments caused by extreme weather events, global warming and rising humidity have led to increased incidence of disabling illness, such as mosquito-borne diseases like malaria which can lead to neurological impairment, heat stroke, and respiratory diseases. For people with disabilities, who are already more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, this means there is a heightened risk of additional injury which can lead to disability. For example, people with psychosocial disabilities are more likely to suffer heat stroke due to the effect of heat on their medication.

Climate change impacts people with disabilities with additional vulnerabilities, such as women and girls, ethnic minorities indigenous people, LGBTQI people, and refugees and displaced people. People with disabilities in contexts of displacement have reported feeling unsafe due to broken support networks. It is important that adequate measures are taken to account for the range of experiences of people with disabilities in response to climate change for a truly inclusive approach.

The global response to the climate crisis must meaningfully include people with disabilities and their representative organisations in policies and advocacy and throughout all phases of program design, delivery, and evaluation.

Further reading

For more information on the situation for people with disabilities in the Pacific see the Pacific Disability Forum report Disability and Climate Change in the Pacific and for information on disability-inclusive climate action, see CBM’s study on climate change and disability rights. AT Scale Partnership has a thematic brief on why assistive technology matters for climate change.