Turn down the heat, World Bank says

POSTED: 11/21/12 12:56 PM

St. Maarten – Small island nations like St.Maarten will be among those most vulnerable to a rise in sea level of more than 1 meter in years to come unless we start planning for the future. The harsh reality of climate change with scientific evidence was packed into a report released on Monday by the World Bank.  The report, prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics, demonstrates how seriously the bank regards climate change as a threat to its development goals. It is called Turn Down the Heat and calls for in a rather dramatic way emphasizes just that; developing and developed nations need to turn down the heat.

Two important solutions for reducing global warming can be found in increasing energy efficiency especially in public or government buildings and the share of renewable power produced by nations, the report suggests. The private sector has been actively looking into alternative energy while the Ministry of Vromi says that it plans to unveil a renewable energy strategy for St. Maarten soon.

However the World Bank has cautioned that it would take more than the political will to create the sweeping changes that would be required to stem the threat of flooded coastal environment and the destruction of coral reefs.

“The report emphasizes the unequivocal bulk of scientific evidence which shows that the global mean temperature has continued to increase and is now about 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The evidence also suggests that global warming could approach or even exceed 4 degrees Celsius 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 degrees Celsius 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 such as coral reef systems.

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.
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 degrees Celsius to 10 degrees Celsius. Increases of 6 degrees Celsius 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 degrees Celsius world. In the continental US 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 percent, burnt out areas of more than 1 million hectares, and economic losses at about $15 billion (1 process gross domestic product (GDP).”

As the World Bank points out, a 4 degrees Celsius 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 degree Celsius world and even keep average levels of global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. 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.  Additionally, 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, are also other alternatives.

The World Bank report joins calls for urgent and immediate climate action from large international organizations, including business giant PricewaterhouseCooper, the International Energy Agency, and even the Central Intelligence Agency (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, as the world prepares for Doha Climate Change Conference, COP18 in Doha, Qatar. That conference is expected to start on Monday.

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