The question about climate change no longer is whether it’s real. The question is what the world is going to look like for our children as they grow up. I have a three-year-old son, and when he is my age, he could be living in a world that is completely different from ours largely because of climate change.
Despite the global community’s best intentions to keep global warming below a 2 degree Celsius increase from the pre-industrial climate, higher levels of warming are increasingly likely. Scientists agree that countries’ current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change emission pledges and commitments would most likely result in 3.5 to 4 degree warming. And the longer those pledges remain unmet, the more likely it is that we will be living in a 4 degree world by the end of this century.
The World Bank Group commissioned a report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research to help us understand the state of the science and the potential impact on good economic development of a 4 degree world.
Launched today, the scenarios in the report are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.
Some of the most vulnerable cities are in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
And most importantly, a 4 degree world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.
The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach for millions of people in the developing world; it also threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.
But a 4 degree warmer world is not a foregone conclusion. We must be careful not to focus only on Doomsday scenarios. In fact, I think there are tremendously exciting possibilities of what it would look like to live in a very low-carbon world.