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World Bank President calls for urgent action to fight global warming

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(eTN) – Regular food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa, shifting rain patterns in South Asia leaving some parts under water and others without enough water for power generation, irrigation or drinking

(eTN) – Regular food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa, shifting rain patterns in South Asia leaving some parts under water and others without enough water for power generation, irrigation or drinking – these are just some of threats from climate change outlined by the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim. In a conversation in London with Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief, Steve Adler, Dr. Kim warned that the impact of rising global temperature could trap millions of people in poverty.

“A world that warms by 2 degrees Celsius, perhaps in just 20 or 30 years will cause vast parts of Africa, African croplands to wither, submerge large swaths of cities in South Asia and kill off much of the fisheries in some parts of Southeast Asia. We must do all that we can to avoid these catastrophes.”

Dr. Kim identified growing pressure over water as the most worrying symptom of climate change, “Climate scientists say that carbon is the currency of climate change, water is the teeth. We’re already seeing struggles and conflicts over access to water. This is what I’m most worried about.”

Dr. Kim said that the earth is fundamentally handling water differently. The jet stream has changed. The El Niño and La Niña effects are changing. “You know, what some of the climate deniers say is ‘how can you tie a particular event to climate change?’ And that’s not what we’re saying. We’re not saying that a particular event and climate change are directly causally related. What we’re saying is that the climate change scientists have predicted that extreme weather events are going to increase in number… I’ve lost count of the number of once-in-a-lifetime events that have happened in the last two or three years. You know, there’s something going on here folks, once-in-a-lifetime events all the time? So this is what the prediction is, and so it’s a hard thing, because there’s not a direct ‘if I do this, this will happen.’ It’s a kind of collective solidarity that we have to exercise on behalf of our children, but it’s not just on behalf of our children. Let me just give you an example. By either 2030 or 2040, if we get to two degrees Celsius, Bangkok could be underwater.”

The World Bank President said that as quantitative easing slows, developing countries are really worried about access to capital. “There’s a huge infrastructure need, and we’ve got to begin to meet it, so we’re working on developing something we’re calling the Global Infrastructure Facility, where we’re not only putting our own money into infrastructure but we’re trying to illustrate for investors…in Tokyo, there’s 1.3 trillion dollars on the sideline earning very low interest rates, and so I went around trying to say ‘look, Africa’s a great investment. We’ve increased our own investment in Africa tenfold in the last 10 years, and there’s a very, very good return to be made.’ Moreover, what I told the investors in Tokyo was that ‘you can have the most wonderful double bottom-line, you can make good return on your investment, and you can also provide electricity for people who desperately need it.”

Dr. Kim praised China’s commitment to tackling climate change saying it had set very aggressive goals to cut its carbon footprint as well as short-lived climate change pollutants:

“I’m sure you know that when the Chinese government decides to do something, they move more quickly and more efficiently than just about any government I’ve ever seen. And so I don’t know that their designation is so important, I mean I think that was part of an argument for a while, you know, ‘we’re a developing country, we should be allowed to pollute’. I don’t think that’s what they’re saying now. I think they’re saying something really quite different, and in working with them, I know that they’re really serious. I mean, we actually provide some assistance, through the program for market readiness, on helping them develop their carbon market. So they’re as serious as any country that I know in terms of reducing their carbon output.”

At the same time, Dr. Kim said it was an issue that China was continuing to build coal plants. He admitted that it was not going to be simple but said that in terms of setting aggressive targets, China’s approach had surprised many people.

Dr. Kim said a pledge by the American and Chinese Presidents to fight climate change was a good first step but it was still imperative to broker a global deal: “You know people were traumatized by Copenhagen, we know that. This was a really difficult meeting, but still, a global agreement is critical. But in the meantime, whatever we can do should be welcomed, and I think that I was very encouraged by the agreement as well. But the thing that is most encouraging to me is that I know from talking with President Obama’s people working on this issue, and from talking with Secretary John Kerry, that the level of seriousness in the United States at the top in tackling this issue just couldn’t be higher.”

Dr. Kim said he believed that as people in the United States began to understand the implications of extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, other legislators would come around, but he hoped it would not take too long.

The World Bank President observed that the public discourse had fundamentally shifted in China. “So these first steps are really important. Every time we see them they should be encouraged, whatever agreement we can come to should be encouraged, but in the meantime, I don’t think we should give up on the global agreements. We have to keep pushing and trying to reach some kind of agreement.”

Dr. Kim’s comments coincided with the release of a new scientific report by the World Bank, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience.” The report says impacts across its study regions are potentially devastating. The burgeoning cities of the developing world are identified as some of the places most at risk from climate change. According to the report, the urban poor, in particular, face significant vulnerability to climate change. The report aims to promote a better understanding of the risks of climate change to development. It notes that many of the worst consequences could still be avoided by holding warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Dr. Kim concluded by saying that he hoped the World Bank report would help convince leaders that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs. “Our successes and failures in this fight against climate change will, in my view, define our generation.”