World Bank report paints disturbing picture of runaway climate change

• June 19, 2013
World bank report

Water shortages will increase with worsening climate change. Creative Commons: Gates Foundation, 2010

A new report from the World Bank paints a stark picture of the world if climate change continues unabated, warning that a warmer planet will keep millions of people trapped in poverty. The report, Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience (PDF), finds that the significant climate impacts observed today will pale in comparison to the ‘new normal’ with 2°C warming, let alone the potentially catastrophic impacts of a 4°C increase.

These stark findings prompted World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to boldly call for aggressive commitments to global emissions reductions:

There can be no substitute for aggressive national mitigation targets, and the burden of emissions reductions lies with a few large economies.

In scenarios of both 2°C and 4°C of global warming, the World Bank sees a future with serious strains on agricultural production, water resources, and coastal communities. The report paints a picture of climate change spinning out of control when vital elements of human and natural systems cross tipping points and experience abrupt change. It warns against ‘domino effects’ where a web of interrelated climate impacts undermines development.

In particular, the report focuses on the regions on South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In these regions, extreme heat, rising sea-levels, increased flooding and drought, more severe storms and destruction of marine life — all the effects of climate change — will contribute to hardships that include crop devastation, destruction of productive land, food and water shortages and economic crisis (see World Bank infographic).

Areas where the temperature increases have the greatest impact are referred to as ‘hotspots.’ Hardships in hardest hit areas, especially in the 4°C scenario, would reverberate around the world in a ‘domino effect’ that would manifest itself in many forms.

For example, impacts on the agricultural sector are expected to affect the global trade of food commodities, decreasing yields and lowering the nutritional value of crops. This impact could cascade throughout society by increasing the level of malnutrition and childhood stunting, hindering educational performance and ultimately damaging the human capital of a nation.

President Kim:

The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2°C – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years —  that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones. In the near-term, climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and the hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature.

These stark findings underscore the need for swift global action to avoid the most dire consequences of a warming world. Dramatic technological change, steadfast and visionary political will, and international cooperation are required to tackle climate change and protect people and nature. President Kim:

I do not believe the poor are condemned to the future scientists envision in this report. In fact, I am convinced we can reduce poverty even in a world severely challenged by climate change.

This is the second study in a series of reports on the impacts of global warming prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. The first ‘Turn Down the Heat’ report came out in late 2012.

The World Bank has been criticized by several NGOs for its support of coal fired power stations in countries like South Africa, Kosovo and India.

Stephanie Tunmore, Greenpeace Campaigner said of The World Bank:

Bold action is needed from all governments, and the World Bank must lead the way by shifting all its energy financing from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency. These are the only solutions that can truly end poverty and avert catastrophic climate change.

New President Jim Yong Kim is known for pushing for climate leadership on the world stage. In light of these recent reports, he said the World Bank will “increasingly look at all its business through a ‘climate lens’.”


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TckTckTck is the online hub for the Global Call for Climate Action. The GCCA represents an unprecedented alliance of more than 400 nonprofit organizations from around the world. Our shared mission is to mobilize civil society and galvanize public support to ensure a safe climate future for people and nature, to promote the low-carbon transition of our economies, and to accelerate the adaptation efforts in communities already affected by climate change.

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