No nation immune to climate change: World Bank

Anna Yukhananov PlanetArk 19 Nov 12;

All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank said in a report on climate change.

Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.

"We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today," Kim told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

The report, called "Turn Down the Heat," highlights the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, a likely scenario under current policies, according to the report.

Climate change is already having an effect: Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum in September, and extreme heat waves and drought in the last decade have hit places like the United States and Russia more often than would be expected from historical records, the report said.

Such extreme weather is likely to become the "new normal" if the temperature rises by 4 degrees, according to the World Bank report. This is likely to happen if not all countries comply with pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even assuming full compliance, the world will warm by more than 3 degrees by 2100.

In this hotter climate, the level of the sea would rise by up to 3 feet, flooding cities in places like Vietnam and Bangladesh. Water scarcity and falling crop yields would exacerbate hunger and poverty.

Extreme heat waves would devastate broad swaths of the earth's land, from the Middle East to the United States, the report says. The warmest July in the Mediterranean could be 9 degrees hotter than it is today -- akin to temperatures seen in the Libyan desert.

The combined effect of all these changes could be even worse, with unpredictable effects that people may not be able to adapt to, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which along with Climate Analytics prepared the report for the World Bank.

"If you look at all these things together, like organs cooperating in a human body, you can think about acceleration of this dilemma," said Schellnhuber, who studied chaos theory as a physicist. "The picture reads that this is not where we want the world to go."

SHOCKED INTO ACTION

As the first scientist to head the World Bank, Kim has pointed to "unequivocal" scientific evidence for man-made climate change to urge countries to do more.

Kim said 97 percent of scientists agree on the reality of climate change.

"It is my hope that this report shocks us into action," Kim, writes in the report.

Scientists are convinced that global warming in the past century is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These findings by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations in a joint statement in 2010.

Kim said the World Bank plans to further meld climate change with development in its programs.

Last year, the Bank doubled its funding for countries seeking to adapt to climate change, and now operates $7.2 billion in climate investment funds in 48 countries.

The World Bank study comes as almost 200 nations will meet in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7 to try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the existing plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that runs to the end of the year.

They have been trying off and on since Kyoto was agreed in 1997 to widen limits on emissions but have been unable to find a formula acceptable to both rich and poor nations.

Emerging countries like China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, have said the main responsibility to cut emissions lies with developed nations, which had a headstart in sparking global warming.

Combating climate change also poses a challenge for the poverty-fighting World Bank: how to balance global warming with immediate energy needs in poor countries.

In 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75 billion loan to develop a coal-fired power plant in South Africa despite lack of support from the United States, Netherlands and Britain due to environmental concerns.

"There really is no alternative to urgent action given the devastating consequences of climate change," global development group Oxfam said in a statement. "Now the question for the World Bank is how it will ensure that all of its investments respond to the imperatives of the report."

Kim said the World Bank tries to avoid investing in coal unless there are no other options.

"But at the same time, we are the group of last resort in finding needed energy in countries that are desperately in search of it," he said.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Diane Craft)

Climate Scientists Applaud Dire World Bank Report
Stephanie Pappas LiveScience.com Yahoo News 22 Nov 12;

Climate scientists who have been warning of the dangerous effects of global warming now have the World Bank on their side, after a new report from that organization calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe.

"The World Bank did a great service to society by issuing this report," said Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Pennsylvania State University and the author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" (Columbia University Press, 2012).

Climate deniers often claim that solutions to global warming are part of a "global socialist agenda," Mann told LiveScience.

"The fact that the World Bank — an entity committed to free market capitalism — has weighed in on the threat of climate change and the urgency of acting to combat it, puts the nail in the coffin of that claim," he said.

A changing world

The report, issued by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics for the World Bank, urges nations to work to prevent the Earth from warming 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) past preindustrial averages. Already, global mean temperatures are running about 1.3 degrees F (0.8 degrees C) hotter than before the onset of the industrial revolution.

Likewise, carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is high and rising. As of September, the concentration was 391 parts per million, a record high, up from a preindustrial 278. That number is now rising by about 1.8 parts per million each year.

All of these changes are accompanied by ice loss, including accelerating melting in Greenland, according to research published this week. As a result, average sea level has risen between 6 and 8 inches (15 and 20 centimeters) or so on average around the world. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

Dire warnings

But what the World Bank warns of is an even bleaker future. Even if the world's nations deliver on their promises of emission limits and global warming mitigation, there is a 20 percent chance that the world will hit the 4 degrees C mark by 2100, according to the report. If emissions continue as is, the planet may reach that point by the 2060s.

International negotiators have agreed that warming should be limited to just half that, or 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C), in that time. A world that is 2 degrees warmer would have its own consequences, but it is crucial to hold that line, the World Bank report argues. A 4-degree warming would mean a sea-level rise of 1.6 to 3.2 feet (0.5 to 1 meter) on average, with the tropics catching the brunt of the change.

Climate research also suggests tropical storms would strengthen and drought would increase across much of the tropical and subtropical world.

"A world in which warming reaches 4 degrees C above preindustrial levels (hereafter referred to as a 4 degree C world), would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services," the authors wrote in the World Bank report.

Climate scientists agree.

"I am inclined to think that things will break before we get there," Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said of a 4-degree-C world. Ecosystems would change so much and agriculture would be so disrupted that the result would likely be "major strife, conflicts and loss of population," Trenberth told LiveScience.

Among the flashpoints, according to the World Bank report, would be sparse water availability, food insecurity and loss of resources such as coral reefs, which are threatened by acidification as more carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans. Coral reefs provide not only food to many local economies, but also tourism dollars. Areas becoming unsustainable would likely lead to mass exodus, creating environmental refugees, Mann said. [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

Avoiding the 4-degree world

Avoiding the 4-degree-warmer world is a matter of political will, said Mann, who sees signs of optimism, including increased awareness and more calls to transition away from fossil fuels.

"The alternative energies (wind, solar, geothermal, etc) are there," Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience. "We just need to deploy and scale them up by investing immediately in the necessary infrastructure."

Slowing the warming may be as useful as stopping it, Trenberth said.

"It is not just the absolute amount of warming, but also the rate at which
we change things to get there," he said. "Two degrees warming in 50 years is extremely stressful, but 2 degrees warming in 500 years is perhaps manageable through adaptation."

If the world fails to act, the world will become a more disrupted, damaged place, the World Bank concluded — and the poor will suffer most.

"The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur — the heat must be turned down," the authors wrote. "Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen."

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