Climate change is taking its largest toll on the world’s poor, aggravating existing inequalities, a new report launched by the United Nations has found.

The report, titled Climate Change Resilience – an Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities, found that governments can play a significant role in reducing the risks faced by the most vulnerable.

Climate change is blamed for extreme weather conditions across the world. The report suggests that governments have been negligent by not closing the gap between the rich and poor, putting their own people in harm’s way.

“While there is considerable anecdotal evidence that the poor and the vulnerable suffer greater harm from climate-related disasters, the report determined that much of the harm is not by accident, but that it is due to the failure of governments to close the development gaps that leave large population groups at risk,” the report states.

In the past 20 years, 4.2 billion people have been affected by weather-related disasters, including a significant loss of lives. Developing countries are the most affected by climate change impacts. Low-income countries tend to suffer the greatest losses.

Lenni Montiel, assistant secretary-general for economic development in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the evidence has become incontrovertible.

The report argues that while climate adaptation and resilience are overshadowed by mitigation in climate discussions, they are vital for addressing climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Families living in poverty tend to occupy the least desirable land, making them susceptible to climate hazards such as mudslides, hot weather, water contamination and flooding. Climate change has the potential to worsen their situation, thereby worsening pre-existent inequalities.

Looking ahead, the report recommends the use of improved access to climate projections, modern information and communication technologies, and geographical information systems to strengthen national capacity to assess impacts of climate hazards and policy options statistically.

The report voices a concern that international resources to support climate change resilience are insufficient. At last year’s Paris climate conference, COP21, countries committed to setting a goal of at least $100bn per year for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries.

However, adaptation costs alone range from $70bn to $100bn per year by 2050 in developing countries, and these figures are likely to underestimate the real cost.