World Bank Sounds Alarm on ‘Cataclysmic’ Climate Change

drought Kenya
In Kenya's Northeast region, drought has lasted for the past four years, water holes have dried up and people must spend all their energy to get water. Nomadic people have lost their goats, cattle and camels as a result of the drought. (Photo by Jakob Dall / Danish Red Cross)


WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2012 (ENS) – Time is running out to avoid devastating climate change, finds a new report commissioned by the World Bank and reviewed by some of the world’s top scientists.

The report warns that humanity is headed for a world that is 4°Celsius (7.2°Fahrenheit) warmer at the end of the century than it was in pre-industrial times, a world marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food supplies, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.

Adverse effects of a warming climate are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals, says the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the World Bank.

Jim Yong Kim
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim releases “Turn Down the Heat,” November 18, 2012 (Photo courtesy World Bank)

The report, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” urges “further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future.”

“A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, releasing the report Sunday. “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,” said Kim.

“The Earth system’s responses to climate change appear to be non-linear,” points out Potsdam Institute Director John Schellnhuber. “If we venture far beyond the two degrees guardrail, towards the four degrees line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption.”

As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C (3.6°F), there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements, the report shows. The West Antarctic ice sheet could disintegrate, leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback would disrupt ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.

The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur – the heat must be turned down. The World Bank warns that only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.

The World Bank report adds to the many voices warning of climate change risk that are being heard this month ahead of the annual United Nations negotiations towards a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that opens November 27 in Doha, Qatar.

Today, over 100 big businesses, including BP, Shell, Unilever, KPMG, Swiss Re and BT, as well as energy companies EDF Energy, Statoil, Doosan, Acciona and Iberdrola, are calling for a global carbon price ahead of the United Nations climate change summit in Doha.

Their Carbon Price Communiqué, coordinated by The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, was presented to European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard today in Brussels before she heads off to the climate change summit.

The signatory businesses applaud the implementation of carbon trading systems, like that recently launched in California, but call for an expansion of such measures and an “unambiguous global carbon price” to drive low-carbon investment and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a critically important report that demonstrates in the starkest terms possible the sheer cost of not doing anything now to slow temperature rise,” said the Prince of Wales. “The world must surely see that the necessary investment needed is a vital long-term insurance against unimaginable turbulence and suffering; an investment that depends upon governments underwriting the risk so that both the private and public sectors can play their part in an effective partnership. Only by making such investment possible can we ensure a more certain course towards survival.”

drought Kenya
In Kenya’s Northeast region, drought has lasted for the past four years, water holes have dried up and people must spend all their energy to get water. Nomadic people have lost their goats, cattle and camels as a result of the drought. (Photo by Jakob Dall / Danish Red Cross)

Fifteen science academies of Africa issued a joint statement in Lagos, Nigeria on November 12, calling on the African scientific community to intensify its study of the impact of climate change.

Noting that Africa’s contribution of scientific information to understanding climate change has been “meagre” to date, the statement calls for African researchers to step up their observation, modeling, and analyses of the effects of climate change on a regional scale, and to help plan interventions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change on the continent.

The statement was presented at the eighth annual conference of African Science Academies in cooperation with the African Science Academy Development Initiative. The initiative, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a partnership between the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and several African science academies to strengthen their capacity to provide evidence-based advice to inform policymaking and public discourse.

In October, Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, killing 209 people in seven countries and causing at least $20 billion in damages. The largest Atlantic storm on record, stretching more than 1,100 miles, caused New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to warn that regardless of the science, the recent devastation and changing climate should, “compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

With the hottest U.S. summer on record, fires in Russia and flooding in the UK, Japan and Thailand, a record minimum of Arctic sea ice reached in September, and other extreme weather events, more than 80 percent of the largest listed companies from around the world reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project now identify physical risk from climate change.

Of those companies, 37 percent perceive these risks as an immediate danger, up from 10 percent in 2010, demonstrating the real and present threat of climate change to businesses.

A new report, co-written by the Carbon Disclosure Project and professional services firm PwC on behalf of 655 institutional investors representing US$78 trillion, shows this risk perception is likely to have contributed to a 10 percent rise in companies integrating climate change into their business strategies, a figure which now stands at 78 percent.

Pakistan flood
In Nowshera, Pakistan people that lost their homes in a 2010 flood return to look for their belongings (Photo by Olav A. Saltbones / Norwegian Red Cross)

The report is being released ahead of the next comprehensive studies by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013/14, and follows the Bank’s own Strategic Framework for Development and Climate Change in 2008 and the World Development Report on climate change in 2010.

“Turn Down the Heat” combines a synthesis of recent scientific literature with new analysis of likely impacts and risks, focusing on developing countries. It chronicles already observed climate change and impacts, such as heat waves and other extreme events, and offers projections for the 21st century for droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, food, water, ecosystems and human health.

The report says today’s climate could warm from the current global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, to as high as 4°C by 2100, even if countries fulfill current emissions reduction pledges.

“This report reinforces the reality that today’s climate volatility affects everything we do,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president for sustainable development. “We will redouble our efforts to build adaptive capacity and resilience, as well as find solutions to the climate challenge.”

The World Bank doubled lending for climate change adaptation last year and plans to step up efforts to support countries’ initiatives to mitigate carbon emissions and promote inclusive green growth and climate-smart development.

The Bank administers the $7.2 billion Climate Investment Funds now operating in 48 countries and leveraging an additional $43 billion in clean investment and climate resilience.

Erick Fernandes, co-lead of the Bank’s Global Expert Team on Climate Change Adaptation, said, “It’s early yet but clearly some of the small island states and coastal communities are beginning to take a hard look at their options. The need to adapt to climate change will increase as global population reaches nine billion in 2050.

Rising Sea Levels

flood Haiti
A Haitian woman walks through an empty market place flooded by Hurricane Sandy, October 25, 2012 (Photo by Logan Abassi courtesy UN/MINUSTAH)

“Turn Down the Heat” says sea levels have been rising faster in the last 20 years than ever before. Partly due to melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the report finds this rise is being seen in many tropical regions of the world.

“There are indications that the greatest melt extent in the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade,” says the report.

“For small island developing states, a four degree world is unthinkable,” said Tillman Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada, co-chair of the Global Islands Alliance and former chair of the Alliance of Small Islands States. “Already at 0.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels, islands and the rest of the world are experiencing devastating impacts of climate change; some seven years ago, Hurricane Ivan caused damages worth 200% of Grenada’s GDP and to rebuild from the hurricane dramatically increased the island’s financial indebtedness. There is a growing consensus that the deadly and costly Hurricane Sandy is climate related.”

“Islands like Grenada have been calling on the international community to limit warming to well below 2.0 degrees Celsius, and believe that below 1.5 degrees is preferable. Averting climate disasters must be a top priority for the international community,” said Prime Minister Thomas.

Ocean Acidification

Coral reefs are acutely sensitive to changes in water temperature and acidity levels. The report warns that by the time the warming levels reach 1.4° C in 2030s, coral reefs may stop growing. This would be a result of oceans becoming more acidic as a result of higher CO2 concentrations. And with 2.4° C, coral reefs in several areas may actually start to dissolve. This is likely to have profound consequences for people who depend on them for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection.

Heat Extremes

A 4°C warmer world would also suffer more extreme heat waves, and these events will not be evenly distributed across the world, according to the report.

Sub-tropical Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States are likely to see monthly summer temperatures rise by more than 6°C. Temperatures of the warmest July between 2080-2100 in the Mediterranean are expected to approach 35°C – about 9°C warmer than the warmest July estimated for the present day. The warmest July month in the Sahara and the Middle East will see temperatures as high as 45°C, or 6-7°C above the warmest July simulated for the present day.

Lower Agricultural Yields

Hotter weather could in turn lower crop yields in a 4°C world—raising concerns about future food security. Field experiments have shown that crops are highly sensitive to temperatures above certain thresholds. One study cited in the report found that each “growing degree day” spent at a temperature of 30 degrees decreases yields by 1 percent under drought-free rain-fed conditions.

The report also says drought-affected areas would increase from 15.4 percent of global cropland today, to around 44 percent by 2100. The most severely affected regions in the next 30 to 90 years will likely be in southern Africa, the United States, southern Europe and Southeast Asia, says the report. In Africa, the report predicts 35 percent of cropland will become unsuitable for cultivation in a 5°C world.

Risks to Human Support Systems

The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much double by 2050. The world could lose several habitats and species with a 4°C warming.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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