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Poverty and Reefs

3.5 Vulnerability To Future Change

Given the projections of continued global population growth, continued urbanisation and industrialisation and the escalating impacts of global warming, pressures on coral reef ecosystems will inevitably continue to increase. As coral reef resources decline their capacity to support the coastal poor, providing livelihood stability and reducing vulnerability, will erode. This has clearly already been the case in many parts of the world, where poor reef stakeholders have suffered a loss of livelihood security and increasing risks and conflicts, which have commonly resulted in unsustainable and often illegal livelihoods. In many cases this situation has been worsened by external market forces and conservation efforts, which have resulted in the exclusion of poor reef stakeholders.

Agricultural activities, which are often combined with reefrelated activities in poor households are also threatened. Global warming predictions suggest that yields of some crops in tropical locations will decrease even with minimal increases in temperature, because such crops are near their maximum temperature tolerance (IPCC, 2001). This trend is thus likely to further exacerbate future vulnerability to change (Box 35).

For many of the poor, alternative options to diversify or change their livelihoods in response to these changes are inaccessible. The poor typically lack the resources and support to change. Existing opportunities are frequently too risky, they may conflict with cultural or social norms and they are often unsustainable in the longer term. So with the erosion of reef benefits, future declines in agriculture, and few viable alternatives or support, the future for the many millions of poor people dependent on coral reefs is severely threatened. Just as the coral reefs have frequently been referred to by scientists and politicians as the ‘miner’s canary’ of global warming, so they may also be referred to as a ‘miner’s canary’ of increasing vulnerability of the livelihoods of the poor.
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