World Bank Ties Ending Poverty with Climate Change

The World Bank called for urgent action on climate change on Sunday after it released a report that examined the economic, ecological and human impacts that a 7.2°F rise in global temperature would have on the world’s population.

The report, entitled, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” underscored how developing nations are likely to be hit the hardest by the impacts of global warming. Food shortages, water scarcity, and coastal flooding associated with droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels are likely to be the most severe in areas that are the least prepared to adapt to them.

The Gabura region of Bangladesh has been hit by increasing flooding in recent years – causing salt water to enter fresh water supplies and making many forms of farming unviable. Catching shrimp fry is one of few ways left for people to earn a living.
Credit: Oxfam GB / International

The report is novel in two key ways. First, it signals a change in policy for the World Bank, a policy that places more emphasis on the relationship between poverty and climate change. Under the leadership of its new President, Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank has indicated that mitigating and adapting to climate change is essential in the fight against global poverty.

“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change,” said Kim on a press conference call on Friday, “It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.”

(Kim also wrote an op-ed for the Guardian about the release of the World Bank report. In it, he said he hopes that the level of catastrophe described in the report “shocks” people to action, and he argued that there can  be a vibrant economy in a low-carbon world. )

Second, the report examined the potentially catastrophic impacts that may occur as temperatures rise as much as 7.2°F above the pre-industrial average. Previous United Nations negotiations on climate change have fought to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6°F, noting that even that much warming will bring serious fluctuations and severe weather. Yet, as carbon emissions keep rising, scientists are treating 7.2°F as an increasingly likely scenario. Brad Plumer at the Washington Post’s WonkBlog summarized five key points from the report about what may happen if the planet gets hotter by 7.2°F.

The release of the report comes one week before the United Nations Framework Council on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks begin in Doha, Qatar, where leaders from more than 200 countries will meet to negotiate an extension to the Kyoto Protocol.

Environmental groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and World Resources Institute (WRI) have commended the World Bank on the urgency, outlook and timing of their report, calling it a timely wake-up call.

“The World Bank is to be congratulated for raising the alarm on this issue,” said Andrew Street, President of the WRI,in a press release. “The World Bank itself can do more to raise ambition through its own financing, including by directing the great bulk of its energy investments toward scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency. Further, the World Bank can channel more resources toward more projects that will enhance innovation and sustainability, as well as climate resilience.”