Development and Climate Change

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Science  06 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5954, pp. 771
DOI: 10.1126/science.1183876

No country is immune to climate change, but the developing world will bear the brunt of the effects, including some 75 to 80% of the costs of anticipated damages.* Millions in densely populated coastal areas and in island nations will lose their homes as the sea level rises, while poor people will face crop failures, reduced agricultural productivity, and increased hunger, malnutrition, and disease. Extreme events such as droughts, floods, and forest fires will become more frequent, making it even harder for developing countries to attain the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals of 2015. A “climate-smart” world is possible in our time. But to ensure a safe and sustainable future, all nations must act now, act together, and act differently.

The world must act now because actions today determine both the climate of tomorrow and the range of choices available to shape the future. The window for limiting temperature increases to a tolerable range is closing. All countries must act together, in a differentiated and equitable way, because tackling climate change involves diverse actions by many parties, with everyone being affected. Transforming the energy systems of the world requires ingenuity and cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Developed countries produced most of the greenhouse gas emissions of the past and currently have high per capita emissions. They must lead in both reducing emissions and financing mitigation and adaptation. Yet globally, most future emissions will be generated in the developing world. Those countries need adequate investments and technology so they can pursue lower-carbon paths without jeopardizing economic growth. We must face the reality that 1.6 billion people in the developing world still have no access to electricity and may not curently have low-carbon alternatives.


Countries must also act differently, particularly with respect to technology, education, and conservation. Planning for the future based on the climate of the past will erode development gains, deepen vulnerabilities, and increase inequities. Instead, we need innovation to invest in a technological revolution that can rapidly provide options for adaptation and mitigation, as well as new institutions and “market pull” policies to encourage entrepreneurship. Scaled-up, innovative financing that leverages funds from other investments, including in the private sector, is critical. We need more centers of excellence to build capacity across public and private sectors to enable innovative education programs, technologies, market solutions, and management practices. Tomorrow's scholars will have to integrate disciplines such as ecology, meteorology, public policy, business, finance, urban planning, agriculture, and public health if they are to solve complex and interrelated environmental and economic problems in concert with climate change. All countries must confront burgeoning demands on land and water, providing people with food, shelter, and energy and protecting biodiversity. Adaptation will require exploring genetic varieties of crops that can withstand new climate extremes, creating conservation corridors to facilitate species' migration, and providing incentives to preserve ecosystem services.

The World Bank Group is extending support in numerous innovative ways to effect change. These include Climate Investments Funds, a Clean Technology Fund, and direct Bank Group financing in support of expanded loans and grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency (http://beta.worldbank.org/climate/). For example, in Turkey, a company has built a waste management and recycling plant that generates not only biomass fuel but compost that is in turn used to grow vegetables for sale. Other initiatives include a solar thermal hybrid project in Egypt (in partnership with the Global Environment Facility, a group of nearly 200 countries, institutions, private-sector companies, and nongovernmental organizations), a sustainable environmental management project in Brazil, and a pilot BioCarbon Fund in Madagascar and several other African countries. But more is needed.

If the global community acts now, together, and differently to join scientific knowledge with cross-disciplinary collective solutions and innovative development strategies, we can indeed shape our climate future.

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