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OPINION

Climate change and the need for political ambition

Rachel Kyte

Rzeczpospolita

November 20, 2013

Media Contacts

As international negotiators head to Warsaw for the United Nations climate talks this month, countries are hoping, but not waiting for a positive outcome.

There is no longer a scientific debate about the reality of climate change, the only debate is a political one of who does what, how and when. 

But, let’s be clear, without ambitious climate action by the highest emitters we could experience a world two degrees warmer than pre-industrial averages in our lifetime.  Impact will vary by region, but no country will escape unscathed. Food shortages will become more common, water for power generation, irrigation, agriculture and drinking will become scarce, and coastal areas will face flooding.

The fast growing cities of the developing world will be most at risk. Already, 72% of Africa’s urban population live in low lying informal settlements. These people, the poorest and most vulnerable, will be increasingly exposed to inundation, mudslides and waterborne disease.

Climate related disasters are trending up resulting in widespread human suffering and increasing economic damage across all regions.  

A recent study of 136 major coastal cities found that while current annual costs of flooding are around $ 5 billion, we can expect those costs to rise to $ 1 trillion by 2050 because of climate change and changes in population and urbanization.  And yet investing now in protecting cities will have huge pay offs. An investment of about $2 billion per city in natural and built protection could do much to avoid those major costs and free up funds for social protection, health and education investments which are so critical to development.

The good news is that many countries, multinational organizations, cities and local communities are urgently assessing climate actions and low carbon growth options.   Putting a price on carbon is a necessary step in avoiding a warmer world. A long term, robust price signal is needed to direct investment toward low carbon growth. Getting prices right, getting finance flowing towards low carbon investments and working where it matters most are key to effective climate action.

The World Bank Group is partnering with interested countries and cities to help them assess the costs of action and inaction against growth targets, and identify material mitigation and adaptation opportunities and no regret investment options that deliver growth, maintain competitiveness, increase resilience and slow warming.  With additional data, new analysis, financing mechanisms and options to leverage additional finance, new growth options can be assessed most effectively. 

In 2012 the World Bank partnered with Poland to look at options for transitioning to a low carbon growth model. That report concluded that while not free or simple, Poland’s transition is affordable. While jobs and growth would be affected in the short term, as prices shift against emissions-intensive sectors, both recover in the mid to long term.  Emerging from this transition will be a Poland more economically efficient and better able to compete in a carbon constrained world.

The analysis suggests accelerating energy efficiency and developing low carbon transport options are essential and urgent priorities, while small hydropower, on-shore wind power, waste recycling and residential building energy efficiency measures could boost growth within a decade.   Poland like every other nation must find it’s way towards low carbon growth.

Recognizing the value of the data and additional analysis to inform decision making, Poland is now setting up a center of excellence for climate change policy analysis, supported by technical advice from the World Bank Group

Each country’s best options for growth and national emissions reduction vary, but every country has them. Options include a mix of technology development that lowers air pollution and increases energy efficiency ;  increasing investment in renewable energy and more energy-efficient building ; expanding urban public rapid transport options; improving waste management and water management and better planning for and management of weather-related disaster losses. Each of these climate actions can be designed to bring short term benefits and lower current and future emissions.

The challenge is to find the “sweet spot” where growth and climate action can be spurred. In this place of maximum benefits countries meet local needs for growth, for resilience, for jobs, and collectively the world benefits from heightened ambition sufficient to meet global needs for emission reduction targets.

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  meeting in Warsaw this month the world needs all governments to scale up their levels of ambition to further curb greenhouse gas emission, and make real progress on climate financing.   

Progress on the provision of climate finance is critical. Climate change increases the costs of development in the poorest countries by between 25 and 30 percent.  The cost of infrastructure that is resilient to climate change is around $1.2 -1.5 trillion and that leaves a $700 million annual gap.  It will take combining efforts of development Banks, financial institutions, export credit agencies, institutional investors, domestic capital markets and public budgets to meet the climate and development challenge.  We look forward to and stand ready to support that coordination.

The World Bank Group will be in Warsaw because we recognize that climate change is a fundamental threat to development.  We will be in Warsaw to support countries and companies seeking to take climate action, to support efforts to expand climate financing and to support the poorest and most vulnerable who are already being hit hardest by climate change.

With each passing year the costs of in action increase, it’s time for bold action. 

We hope that new levels of political ambition emerge in the UNFCCC meetings but regardless we are stepping up our mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk management work, and will redouble our efforts to look at everything we do through a climate lens. We will focus on solutions that make the biggest difference  - helping cities grow clean and resilient, developing climate smart agriculture practices, finding innovative ways to improve energy efficiency at scale and the performance of renewables energies. 

Working with others we will support countries as they seek to remove harmful fossil fuel subsidies and make every effort to help put a price on carbon. We will take measures to remove short term climate pollutants like soot and methane from our projects and begin tracking greenhouse gas emissions from our investments.