Climate Change Threatens Economic Development
In May, atmospheric CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm – an indicator that efforts to limit these emissions are failing. As these heat-trapping gases continue to climb, the earth is that much closer to experiencing devastating climate change scenarios. Increased sea levels and greater coastal flooding, as well as extreme droughts and heat waves have been predicted by highly-sophisticated computer models. Now there is new research showing these dire consequences pose an even greater threat to certain vulnerable populations.
In 2009, world leaders agreed that they must work together to prevent an increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Experts were clear that a 2°C temperature rise would have deadly consequences. Despite the oft-cited 2 degree figure, recent analysis of the anticipated impacts have been revised upwards, such that a 1° rise is now considered "dangerous" and 2° is the brink of "very dangerous."
In a 2 degree warmer world, the earth's environment will have substantially changed, asserts World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in a recent presentation. As water is processed differently, disastrous droughts and floods will result. Poor urban coastal communities will be among the most affected.
Kim is basing these claims on a new scientific report, commissioned by the World Bank, to assess the risks of climate change to development in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia. The authors explore the impacts of 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, coastal zone fisheries and coastal safety within these three vulnerable regions. The findings indicate that negative effects are on track to increase "as global warming climbs from present levels of 0.8°C up to 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C above pre-industrial levels."
Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience was written by a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. The research draws on data from current peer-reviewed literature and supplemental computer modeling.
According to the authors, "significant climate and development impacts are already being felt in some regions, and in some cases multiple threats of increasing extreme heat waves, sea level rise, more severe storms, droughts and floods are expected to have further severe negative implications for the poorest."
The biggest revelation is the link between global warming, poverty and food scarcity. The report's authors write:
"Climate related extreme events could push households below the poverty trap threshold. High temperature extremes appear likely to affect yields of rice, wheat, maize and other important crops, adversely affecting food security. Promoting economic growth and the eradication of poverty and inequality will thus be an increasingly challenging task under future climate change. Immediate steps are needed to help countries adapt to the risks already locked in at current levels of 0.8°C warming, but with ambitious global action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many of the worst projected climate impacts could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C."
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says the world must mitigate climate change, stating: "If we don't take action now, we will never reach our goal."
He points to two things we can do right now: stabilize carbon prices and do away with fuel subsidies. These measures will require a lot of political will and collaboration among nations, but they can and must be done, according to the bank president.
Kim also highlights the activities of the World Bank, which is engaged in a three-pronged approach. The first target is sustainable energy for all. "We think we can provide funding and technical expertise so that every country in the world can have the energy it needs to grow, but grow in a sustainable fashion," says Kim. The second goal is the creation of clean cities. Every country in the world can build cleaner cities, notes Kim.
The final area is one that's gained a lot of attention recently and that's climate-smart agriculture. This best-of-both-world's approach puts carbon back into the ground while also providing food security. "We need to get better at climate-smart agriculture," expounds Kim, "because the conditions are going to get tougher with the droughts and the flooding, but we know we can do it and we need to start right now."
In the foreword to the report, Kim states:
The work of the World Bank Group is to end extreme poverty and build shared prosperity. Today, we have every reason to believe that it is within our grasp to end extreme poverty by 2030. But we will not meet this goal without tackling the problem of climate change.
At the World Bank Group, we are concerned that unless the world takes bold action now, a disastrously warming planet threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development.
In response we are stepping up our mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management work, and will increasingly look at all our business through a "climate lens."
But we know that our work alone is not enough. We need to support action by others to deliver bold ideas that will make the biggest difference.
While the focus of this publication is on green computing, reports like this remind us there is a greater context. There is no doubt that the IT community has a role to play in reducing our global carbon footprint as we are reminded again and again.
Read the entire report here, and see a video of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim detailing the key findings below.