Hurricane Sandy on October 25th in the Caribbean. Scientists say that climate change may have intensified Hurricane Sandy with its impact worsened by rising sea levels and increased evaporation from hotter marine waters. Recent studies predict that worsening climate change will bring more intense hurricanes. Photo by: NASA.
A new report by the World Bank paints a bleak picture of life on Earth in 80 years: global temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius spurring rapidly rising sea levels and devastating droughts. Global agriculture is under constant threat; economies have been hampered; coastal cities are repeatedly flooded; coral reefs are dissolving from ocean acidification; and species worldwide are vanishing. This, according to the World Bank, is where we are headed even if all of the world’s nations meet their pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the report also notes that with swift, aggressive action it’s still possible to ensure that global temperatures don’t rise above 4 degrees Celsius.
“A world in which warming reaches 4°C above preindustrial levels [..] 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 report says, noting that there will be “a rapidly rising risk of crop yield reductions as the world warms.”
The report, entitled Turn Down the Heat, says that no region on Earth will avoid suffering from climate change, but the poorest will still get the brunt of the harm.
“Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, who noted that warming must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius. Kim is notable as the first scientist (he is a physician and anthropologist) to head the bank. “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.”
Rice fields in Lao PDR. As climate change worsens agriculture will be increasingly hard hit be extreme weather, including drought, heatvwaves, floods, and coastal inundation according to a new report by the World Bank. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
As one example, the report outlines in painful detail how unprecedented heatwaves may spread in a 4 degree world.
“Recent extreme heat waves such as in Russia in 2010 are likely to become the new normal summer in a 4°C world,” the authors write. “Tropical South America, central Africa, and all tropical islands in the Pacific are likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude and duration. In this new high-temperature climate regime, the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century.”
In addition, sea levels will rise by at least 0.5 to 1 meter by century’s end, coral reefs and many other marine organisms could go extinct, and many farming areas may have to be abandoned due to higher sea levels and expanding drought.
The report also warns that adaptation efforts may not be enough in world overheated by 4 degrees, especially given the risk of going over climate tipping points.
“There is […] no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible,” the report says starkly.
“The Earth system’s responses to climate change appear to be non-linear,” explains, John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) which co-authored the report for the World Bank along with Climate Analytics. “If we venture far beyond the 2 degrees guardrail, towards the 4 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.”
There’s still time to avoid the fate outlined in the report, if countries commit to “early, cooperative, international actions,” the authors write.
The World Bank recommends ending the $1 trillion currently paid out in subsidies for fossil fuel production; putting national prices on carbon and trading emissions internationally; increasing both energy efficiency and renewable energies; and incorporating ecosystem services in the global economy among other actions.
“The world must tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively,” Kim added. “We need a global response equal to the scale of the climate problem, a response that puts us on a new path of climate smart development and shared prosperity. But time is very short.”
However, environmentalists have long said that the World Bank, which provides loans to developing countries, is a part of the problem. The World Bank has a history of funding massive fossil fuel projects. To tackle some of the criticism, last year the World Bank announced it would only fund coal projects to the world’s poorest countries and only after alternative energies have been ruled out. Still, many would like the World Bank to take a harder line on climate change and hope Kim may steer the bank in that direction.
“The World Bank and its member governments have the means to finance a fair transition to a cleaner, safer and fairer future. WWF expects that this report is a first step towards that decision,” Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said.
The World Bank report also comes on the heels of another study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) which warned that two thirds of known fossil fuel deposits would have to stay in the ground if the world is to have a fifty percent chance of keeping the 2 degree target. Both reports have been released shortly before the next UN Climate Summit, which kicks off in Doha, Qatar next week. Despite the continuously dire warnings and already visible impacts of climate change worldwide—such as another record low in Arctic sea ice which stunned even the most pessimistic scientists—few are expecting a major breakthrough at the next summit.
(11/16/2012) Asia’s cities are increasing vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change, urban expansion, and poor planning, warns a report published this week by the Asian Development Bank. Disasters risk undermining recent economic gains in the region.
(11/15/2012) Following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy—which many scientists say was likely worsened by climate change—and a long silence on the issue of global warming during the Presidential campaign, environmentalists yesterday were disappointed when re-elected President Barack Obama seemingly put action on climate change on the back burner.
(11/05/2012) As the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy—killing over 100 people and producing upwards of $50 billion in damage along the U.S. East Coast—has reignited a long-dormant conversation on climate change in the media, it’s important to note that this is not the only weird and wild weather the U.S. has seen this year. In fact, 2012 has been a year of record-breaking weather across the U.S.: the worst drought in decades, unprecedented heatwaves, and monster forest fires. While climatologists have long stated that it is not yet possible to blame a single extreme weather event on climate change, research is showing that rising temperatures are very likely increasing the chances of extreme weather events and worsening them when they occur.
(11/01/2012) Growing, transporting, refrigerating, and wasting food accounts for somewhere between 19-29 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, according to a new analysis by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). In hard numbers that’s between 9.8 and 16.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than double the fossil fuel emissions of China in the same year. Over 80 percent of food emissions came from production (i.e. agriculture) which includes deforestation and land use change.
(10/17/2012) This year saw the Arctic sea ice extent fall to a new and shocking low, while the U.S. experienced it warmest month ever on record (July), beating even Dust Bowl temperatures. Meanwhile, a flood of new research has convincingly connected a rise in extreme weather events, especially droughts and heatwaves, to global climate change, and a recent report by the DARA Group and Climate Vulnerability Forum finds that climate change contributes to around 400,000 deaths a year and costs the world 1.6 percent of its GDP, or $1.2 trillion. All this and global temperatures have only risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the early Twentieth Century. Scientists predict that temperatures could rise between 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) to a staggering 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
(10/16/2012) In a world where technology has advanced to a point where I can instantly have a face-to-face conversation via online video with a friend in Tokyo, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, still suffer from malnutrition, according to a new UN report. While worldwide hunger declined from 1990 to 2007, progress was slowed by the global economic crisis. Over the last few years, numerous and record-breaking extreme weather events have also taken tolls on food production. Currently, food prices hover just below crisis levels.
(10/15/2012) Beginning next year, Norway will nearly double the carbon tax on its domestic oil industry to help set up a $1 billion climate change fund for programs in developing nations among other green projects. The Scandinavian nation is the world’s 13 largest oil producer and third biggest oil exporter, yet has been one of the most active champions of funding climate change projects.
(10/10/2012) According to a new poll, 74 percent of Americans agree that climate change is impacting weather in the U.S., including 73 percent who agreed, strongly or somewhat, that climate change had exacerbated record high temperatures over the summer. The findings mean that a large majority of Americans agree with climatologists who in recent years have found increasingly strong evidence that climate change has both increased and worsened extreme weather events.
(09/19/2012) Some twenty days after breaking the record for the lowest sea ice extent, the Arctic sea ice has hit a new rock bottom and finally begun its seasonal recovery. In the end, the Arctic sea ice extent fell to just 3.4 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) when only a few months ago scientists were wondering if it would break the 4 million square kilometers. The speed of the sea ice decline due to climate change has outpaced all the computer models, overrun all expert predictions, and shocked even the gloomiest scientists.
(09/10/2012) Wind power is up to the challenge of providing more-than-enough energy for global society, according to two new and unrelated studies. Both studies, one published in Nature Climate Change and the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that wind power from surface winds alone could produce hundreds of terrawatts (TW) meanwhile current global society uses around 18 TW.
(08/16/2012) Four weeks before Greenland’s melting season usually ends, it has already blown past all previous records. By August 8th, nearly a month before cooler weather usually sets in around the world’s largest island, the island toppled the past record set in 2010.
(08/15/2012) Last month, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy released its first ever international energy efficiency scorecard, which gave the United Kingdom the top score. Using data points honed over years of rating U.S. states, the organization hoped to inspire nations to learn from each others’ effective policies, as well as encourage “friendly competition” in the spirit of lowering global carbon emissions. At number one, the United Kingdom achieved a score of 67 out of 100 points, followed by Germany, Italy and Japan. As a whole, the European Union tied with China and Au