Speeches & Transcripts

Live Chat with World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific on Climate Change

February 27, 2014

Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific Live Chat Beijing, China


Q: Given the heavy smog that a large part of China is experiencing, what recommendations does the World Bank have for China? Or what actions does the World Bank take to help improve the situation?

Axel van Trotsenburg:To deal with the heavy smog that a large portion of Chinese are experiencing we need to look at the policies that affect urbanization, industrial pollution and electricity generation. In this context, the country may need to look at incentive mechanisms, so as to encourage enterprises as well as households to go green. Also, certain regulations that allow for better design of houses, of insulation, or of regulations that control Co2 emissions in transport could also help. Finally, it will be important to look at the industrial production, as well as to how electricity is generated and how electricity generation could become less Co2 intensive.

We would like to provide you with a couple of examples to show the type of projects we are supporting in this area. One of our projects is installing 100 MW rooftop solar photovoltaic systems in about 800 public schools and colleges in Beijing. Another project is supporting Shanghai to develop as a low-carbon city by improving energy efficiency of existing and new buildings. We also work with many cities around China to promote clean and efficient energy vehicles and public transportation.

Q: Electric cars are hot these days. What do you think of it? Would you invest in Tesla?

Axel van Trotsenburg: At this stage, I would love to test drive a Tesla. More generally, electric cars are slowly being introduced into the car market, and still have to overcome many obstacles. We expect that over the next couple of years, more and more electric cars will be seen on the roads in China and elsewhere in the world. However, it is fair to expect that for the foreseeable future, fuel-driven cars will dominate the car market. But that is not to say that also with the fuel driven cars it is important to improve the efficiency and reduce Co2 emission. A case in point is the hybrid cars.

Q: Recently, there has been some controversy from the U.S saying that the Earth is not getting warmer, rather it is getting colder (i.e. the snow in the U.S and other areas ), and your response to that is ?

Axel van Trotsenburg: It is not a good idea to make a judgment on one or two observations whether that was a hot day or a cold day, and make judgment about climate change. It is better to rely on scientific evidence. In this context, the United Nations has a commission on climate change that establishes the scientific evidence of climate change.  Their reports have confirmed that indeed  climate change is happening.

Q: What different impact does climate change have on developing and developed countries? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: All countries will be affected by climate change. However, developing countries often do not have the financial means to defend themselves and adapt themselves to the impact of climate change. Even worse, climate change threatens to undermine development in many developing countries, and roll back decades of progress. The tragedy is that climate change disproportionately affects the poorest countries, and the poorest are paying the highest price. 

Q: Do countries need to disclose information and share knowledge on the issue of climate change? How? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: Climate change is a challenge for mankind. As such, the only way forward is international cooperation and the search for joint solutions. The basis of these solutions has to be information -- what is happening in each country, and how climate change affects each country. So the World Bank is a strong advocate of sharing information through its Open Data Initiative and also promoting international collaboration in climate change projects. 

Q: In your view, how can we make developed countries transfer their environmental and high-tech industries to developing countries? Developing countries are becoming major polluters but have neither the incentive nor the capacity to fight climate change. 

Axel van Trotsenburg: For the World Bank, it is very important to keep a long-term view. Climate change, if not addressed, will have a major impact on people in the future. Last year, the World Bank published a book called “Turn Down the Heat”, and warned that if  immediate action was not taken, the temperature of the Earth could increase by four degrees potentially by the end of the century. Therefore, in order to avoid these risks, decisive action is needed not only by developed countries but also by developing countries. We need to find the best way to cooperate with each other, either through technology transfers, but also providing effective support to countries that are seriously challenged by climate change, for example, some small islands in the Pacific that are threatened by rising sea levels. 

Q: Are regional carbon trading markets or a single global trading market more conducive to addressing climate change? How can we involve the countries that are not willing or are incapable to reduce emission? How can we prevent countries that are willing to reduce emission from being affected and cutting their emission targets?

Axel van Trotsenburg: Carbon trading is one of many potential instruments of addressing climate change. The challenge is to establish a carbon price that is more stable than what we have seen lately. There are other interventions as well. Some countries are trying carbon taxation. I believe that we need to be open to the instrument that each country chooses, as ultimately parliaments have to approve these measures, and they need to be backed.   Therefore, probably a single global trading facility is still an idea of the future. 

A key measure of dealing with reluctance to deal with emission is awareness building. Today's discussion is very important. So are many other initiatives that are trying to document the extent of emissions and how it is affecting life in countries as well as impact on the poorest countries. This increased awareness building has triggered international action already.  But the World Bank feels that much more needs to be done. Therefore, the World Bank has adopted a dual-track approach by writing and creating awareness of the problem of climate change through its publications, through its public outreach, through speaking, etc.  At the same time, it is also taking concrete action on climate change. We are currently helping 130 countries across the globe to implement action on climate change. This involves, for example, replacing inefficient light bulbs, for example, in Mexico; to provide solar energy for millions in Bangladesh; and to support rural inhabitants in Ethiopia to deal with the impact of drought. In the case of China, the World Bank has supported programs of $35 billion of which it provided financing of $5 billion for projects dealing with energy efficiency, solar, reforestation, etc. 

Q: What impact does the change of people’s consumption pattern have on climate change? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: We have seen in developing countries that moinge from low-income to middle-income status, that those countries are also changing their consumption patterns. In particular, you see people consuming more meat. Yet meat production requires a lot of grain consumption as well as water consumption. Increasing the number of livestock also produces methane in the digestive process, and methane gas is a prominent emitter of greenhouse gases. Eating less meat is good for climate change. As I said, cattle produce a lot of methane. So if everything is equal but people consume less meat, then less methane is produced. I don’t want to say what people should consume.  Personally, I do eat less meat, but more out of health reasons rather than for climate change. 

Q: Is eating less meat good for the climate? 

Axel van Trotsenburg:  As I mentioned, cattle produces a lot of methane gas. If everything is equal, people eat less meat, then less methane gases are being produced. Of course, I am not saying that how people should consume. Personally, I do eat less meat, but that mainly for health reason. 

Q: I study meteorology and climatology this semester. I think environmental and climate science needs to be developed urgently. What expectations and suggestions do you have for climate research? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: I am not an expert in this area, but over the years, I have learned to appreciate the enormous complexity of modeling and better understanding of weather patterns. I am strongly supportive of people who want to study this since they could make important contributions in improving our knowledge on climatology, and with this better understanding, potentially contribute to the development of strategies on how to deal with climate change. So I can only recommend to you, if your passion is in this area, to please continue to study this and become an expert in this area. 

Q: I’m asking a question for the poor people living in Nujiang River Basin: they have no electricity and no roads, and it takes a day’s walk on the mountain path to get salt. Can a hydropower station be built on the Nujiang River? Many urban people say that dams would destroy the environment. We want to improve our life but do not want to destroy our homeland. What should we do? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: I don’t know this specific situation you’re living in. But the World Bank as always is very supportive of that all people should be able to have access to electricity. How this electricity is provided really depends on country specific and regional specific circumstances that would need to be evaluated. In this context, the World Bank favors environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive solutions. 

To give a global dimension to your question, access to electricity globally means bringing electricity to about 1.2 billion people who currently do not have access to electricity. And the environmentally sustainable solutions that I am talking about are referring to the potential of developing renewable energy resources, as well as exploiting better the potential of energy efficiency.

Q: Are there any successful cases in addressing climate issues around the world that can be replicated? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: There are many approaches being implemented currently in many countries across the world dealing with the challenge of climate change. These can be successful projects promoting energy efficiency. These can be projects using renewables, be it solar, be it wind energy, be it hydro electric energy. They all provide good lessons. In addition, many countries have made cities much more livable by providing less carbon-intensive transport solutions, better buildings, etc. Again, the World Bank is trying to share a lot of these experiences around the globe and facilitate systematic learning that can fit into the design of new projects of our member countries.   The good news is that we have many successful projects that can make a difference. The challenge is to scale them up and make a bigger impact on climate change. 

Q: How does climate change affect the business of the World Bank? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: Climate change has become an integral part of our business, as it affects so many developing countries. And as I have said before, the poor are disproportionally affected by the impact of climate change. Therefore, it is part of our business, and it will stay part of our business. The Bank is committed to work with countries to see how we can improve the situation. 

Q: What has the World Bank done to address climate change? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: We have been engaged with our member countries on climate change. Concretely there are a couple of ideas we have been moving on with determination. First, building low carbon, climate resilient cities by mobilizing finance and expertise, as well as helping fast growing cities avoid lock in carbon-intensive infrastructure. Secondly, we are working with partners to accelerate energy efficiency, investments in renewable energy investments and promoting universal access to modern energy. We are also moving on the mitigation agenda by, for example, advocating the removal of harmful fossil fuel subsidies that currently is costing hundreds of billions of dollars and is affecting negatively the air pollution. 

Q: I saw a CCTV-2 interview on government’s efforts to address the smog: it would need 5 to 10 years to solve the smog pollution in Beijing. Does the World Bank have any quicker way to help China solve the smog? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: One of the harsh realities of climate change is that are no short-term solutions. It will require long-term commitment, persistent implementation, and continuous monitoring of the situation to improve air pollution. That doesn’t mean that, in the short term, we could not take action to start a long way of improving air quality in the cities. 

Q: With global warming, decreasing ice cover and increasing evaporation, would the amount of precipitation increase? Would this additional precipitation reduce droughts? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: What we are observing today are changing weather patterns. Precipitation may increase in one part of the world, but could well be reduced in other parts of the world causing increased drought. You see these phenomena are happening in developed as well as developing countries alike. Even in the United States, we’re seeing a drought pattern occurring.  Whether this is temporary or definitely linked to climate change, I am not in a position to confirm. 

Q: If technical innovation has proven to be effective in addressing climate change caused by industrial pollution, what role can the World Bank play in this? 

Axel van Trotsenburg: The World Bank believes in addressing climate change through policy action, including action in the regulatory framework. But we also believe that technical innovations can help improve the situation. The World Bank is not engaged in supporting directly technical innovation, and this is being done by industry. We have not directly supported programs in these areas, but recognize that technological improvements can play a very important role in the climate change debate and policies.

Q: To phase out some heavily polluting industries and backward production capacities is one of the way to reduce air pollution. But it would inevitably lead to slowdown of economic growth. Is there any way to address this contradiction?

Axel van Trotsenburg: The contradiction you’re suggesting may not be so straight-forward. It is true that, with everything equal, if you were to phase out a polluting industry, and it is not being replaced with others, that indeed could lead to slowdown of economic growth. But this does not need to take place. For example, today in the United States, the shell gas revolution is actually contributing to economic growth. Heavily polluting coal-fired plants are currently being replaced by gas-fired plants that produce half of the Co2 emissions. This type of industry has created tens of thousands of jobs and is strongly supporting economic growth.

Q: Large part of China has been hit by smog. Does the World Bank have any solutions for the smog? How does the World Bank integrate climate change issues into its China program? What strategic considerations does the World Bank have?

Axel van Trotsenburg: The World Bank does not have the “solution” for the smog. But the World Bank has a very strong commitment to China, and willingness and determination to work with the country to identify ways and means to reduce smog and establish or create better air quality in cities. This work and this commitment are not limited to the short term. As we have successfully worked with China over the last almost 35 years, we are long-term partners, and we are committed to look for long-term solutions for quality of life in cities to improve, and we could affect positively the lives of citizens.