World Bank: Climate change will hit poorest hardest

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All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but the world's poorest countries will suffer most from food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank’s new report on climate change says.

Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, a former scientist, 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 Friday [16 November].

The report, ‘Turn Down the Heat,’ says that 4 degrees of global warming by 2100 is likely under current policies, and would have devastating impacts.

Climate change is already having an effect. Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum in September, and extreme heat waves and droughts have hit the US and Russia more often in the last decade than would be expected from historical records, the report says.

Such extreme weather is likely to become ‘the new normal’ if temperatures rise by 4 degrees, unless countries comply with pledges made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But even doing so would not stop warming of over 3 degrees Celsius.

In this hotter climate, sea levels would rise by up to 1 metre, 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 US, the report says. The warmest July in the Mediterranean could be 9 degrees hotter than today – similar to temperatures in the Libyan Desert.

Unpredictable effects

Cumulatively, such climatic changes could carry unpredictable effects that people may not be able to adapt to, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which authored the report, along with Climate Analytics.

"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. "This is not where we want the world to go."

Scientists are convinced that global warming is caused by increasing concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Kim said the World Bank plans to further meld climate change with development in its programmes. Last year, the Bank doubled its funding for 48 countries seeking to adapt to climate change, to $7.2 billion.

"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."

In 2010, the World Bank approved a $3.75 billion loan to develop a coal-fired power plant in South Africa despite international opposition.

Kim said the World Bank tries to avoid coal investments unless there were 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.

The World Bank study comes as almost 200 nations prepare to 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 ends this year.

Extreme weather events are rare, which means that statistics are not always available to analyse them. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s extreme weather report found it probable that the incidence of heat waves and floods had increased in recent years, although there are strong regional variations.

A rise in extreme coastal high water related to increases in mean sea level was also rated at between 66%-90% probability.

IPCC scientists also expressed confidence that droughts were becoming more intense and longer, particularly in southern Europe and West Africa, but in central North America and northwestern Australia the reverse seemed to be happening.

  • 26 Nov.: UNFCCC Doha Climate Change Summit due to begin

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