“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today.”
Those words weren’t uttered by a radical environmentalist or crusading climate scientists. Instead, they were spoken by new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim during a recent press call.
Kim was speaking with reporters about his agency’s latest report called “Turn Down the Heat” [PDF]. The report highlights the devastating impact of a 7.2 degree global temperature increase, which if current energy and pollution policies persist, is likely by the end of the century. Extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise all loom on the horizon if mitigation and adaptation strategies aren’t implemented immediately. Worse, the report confirms that the world’s poorest populations are likely to suffer the worst consequences.
The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In the Amazon, forest fires could as much as double by 2050. A warmer world would also suffer more extreme heat waves, and these events too will not be evenly distributed across the world. Sub-tropical Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States are likely to see monthly summer temperatures rise by more than 11°F. The report further warns that continued warming will lead to greater ocean acidification, which could lead to stunted growth of coral reefs, and eventually, their total dissolution. Loss of coral reefs is likely to have profound consequences for people who depend on them for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection.
Combined, these events are likely to create millions of climate refugees, already distressed populations who must flee their homelands in search of water, food and employment. Developed countries already struggling to support their poor will be inundated with destitute peoples looking for a safe place to live. Strained food systems and infrastructure is likely to crumble under the pressure.
In an attempt to fend off these disaster scenarios, the World Bank doubled lending for climate change adaptation last year and plans to step up efforts to support countries’ initiatives to mitigate carbon emissions and promote inclusive green growth and climate-smart development. Among other measures, the Bank administers the $7.2 billion Climate Investment Funds now operating in 48 countries and leveraging an additional $43 billion in clean investment and climate resilience. Unfortunately, all the money in the world won’t make a difference if the apathy of those in wealthy nations remains the same.
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