World Bank urges leaders: ‘turn down the heat’ or face the consequences

Intro

In its new report ‘Turn Down the Heat’ the World Bank – the world’s primary bank for development funding – emphasises that life on Earth with 4°C warming would be ‘dire’, with extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people among the ‘cataclysmic’ impacts we can expect to suffer. The Bank has told government leaders and policy-makers their current emissions reduction pledges are so weak that our planet is on track to hit 4°C by 2100 – even if countries meet their targets. However, keeping our planet within tolerable limits of 1.5°C to 2°C warming is still possible if leaders take swift and decisive action. The Bank’s recommendations for governments resonate with those issued just last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Both institutions are known for their conservatism, yet both are sounding the alarm about current investment trends in high-carbon infrastructure. They both advocate major shifts away from fossil fuel subsidies, for example, combined with a rapid increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy investment. The growing chorus of powerful voices calling for climate action is ramping up the pressure on governments to respond during international UN climate talks in Doha this month.

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RT @kellyrigg: World Bank report shows what’s in store 4 our kids & grandkids if we don’t tackle #climate change now http://bit.ly/SE2nT0

Key Points

  • The new World Bank report is a striking warning by a global authority that governments can’t afford to ignore. Unless there is agreement to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables and cut emissions much faster, the report projects 4°C global warming in this century with ‘dire’ and ‘cataclysmic’ impacts. The consequences of inaction will result in extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, sea-level rise and many other impacts that will affect hundreds of millions of people, and the ecosystems they depend on, everywhere around the world.
  • While the report is scientific in nature, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says he wants to ‘shock’ governments into action, calling on them to tackle climate change ‘more aggressively’. He leaves no doubt that a 4°C warmer world can and must be avoided, urging leaders to ensure that we hold warming below 2°C, so that our children don’t inherit ‘a completely different world than we are living in today’.
  • The World Bank also offers solutions, identifying concrete steps which could keep global warming within tolerable limits of 1.5°C to 2°C. Their recommendations include putting $1 trillion of fossil fuel subsidies to better use; increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy; carbon pricing and emissions trading schemes; and climate-resilient development. These steps are highlighted as ‘economically feasible’.
  • Public and political pressure on governments is growing. Within a week we have seen leading conservative institutions like the IEA and the World Bank urge leaders to act fast in order to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Now governments have an opportunity to respond to this pressure by making progress towards a strong and legally binding deal at UN negotiations in Doha later this month.

Background

Today the World Bank released a report prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics demonstrating how seriously the World Bank regards climate change as a threat to its development goals. The report is called ‘Turn Down the Heat’ and calls for exactly that in dramatic style. The World Bank is an institution that was established to help reduce poverty and support development. It has not always been known as a champion of climate action, recently incurring the criticism of environmental groups for its support of coal fired power stations in countries like South Africa, Kosovo and India. But new President Jim Yong Kim is known for pushing for climate leadership on the world stage, and this report could help push the World Bank to change its lending practices to be more climate- friendly.

The report emphasises the unequivocal bulk of scientific evidence which shows that the global mean temperature has continued to increase and is now about 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels. The evidence also suggests that global warming could approach or even exceed 4°C by 2100 if we don’t manage to divert from current emission trends – a magnitude of change not seen since the last ice age. The report says that a 4°C scenario is potentially devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; damage to food production systems which could lead to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming drier and wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions (especially in the tropics); substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased intensity of tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.

In particular the report emphasizes that a sea level-rise by 0.5 to 1 meter by 2100 is likely, with higher levels also possible. The World Bank says that some of the most highly vulnerable cities are located in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Many small islands are even more vulnerable and may not be able to sustain their populations. According to the report, extreme heat waves – that would be expected to occur once in several hundred years without global warming – will be experienced during almost all summer months in many regions. The largest warming would be expected to occur over land and range from 4°C to 10°C. Increases of 6°C or more in average monthly summer temperatures would be expected in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and parts of the United States.

Recent extreme weather events are mild compared to what we would see in a 4°C world. In the continental U.S., where there have been unprecedented storms, heat waves, and droughts recently that caused loss of life, loss of property and increased food prices for staples like corn, such events would be commonplace. Another example cited by the World Bank of what we can expect more often from unmitigated global warming is the Russian heat wave of 2010. This culminated in a death toll of 55,000, annual crop failure at about 25%, burnt out areas of more than 1 million hectares, and economic losses at about $15 billion (1% gross domestic product (GDP)). As the World Bank points out, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to even anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.

Despite the harsh realities outlined in ‘Turn Down the Heat’ there are positive finds. The report – along with other recent studies – found that with urgent action we can avoid a 4°C world and even keep average levels of global warming below 2°C. The Bank suggests a range of what it calls ‘technologically and economically feasible’ measures that include: ‘putting the more than $1 trillion of fossil fuel and other harmful subsidies to better use in clean energy investment; introducing natural capital accounting into national accounts; expanding both public and private expenditures on green infrastructure able to withstand extreme weather and urban public transport systems designed to minimize carbon emission and maximize access to jobs and services; supporting carbon pricing and international and national emissions trading schemes; and increasing energy efficiency – especially in buildings – and the share of renewable power produced.’

The World Bank report joins call for urgent and immediate climate action from large international organizations, including business giant PricewaterhouseCooper, the International Energy Agency, and even the CIA. These reports require leadership from Heads of States and Governments. Their prime window of opportunity for creating an aggressive and binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty is looming large – COP18 in Doha, Qatar begins Monday, November 26th.

 

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Key Quotes

The World Bank got an impressive list of high-level commentators to endorse the report, including Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Al Gore, Nicholas Stern and various Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers. A full list of their quotes – which are worth amplifying – can be found here

“A 4 degree warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2 degrees. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

“Greater adaptation and mitigation efforts are essential and solutions exist. We need a global response equal to the scale of the climate problem, a response that puts us on a new path of climate smart development and shared prosperity. But time is very short.”

– World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim