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Why care? Because climate and development are inextricably linked

Ricardo Fuentes's picture

Hopenhagen – that magical place of bright future days – is a few weeks behind us and the public interest in climate change is in slow decline – at least according to Google Trends . This is normal. Big meetings create lots of news and expectations and there is often disappointment and exhaustion in their wake. Couple that with the recent concerns about some of the results of specific scientific research, and it seems that the debate on climate change is in a bad place, doomed to irrelevance.

Well, it should not be. Regardless of overcrowded meetings and leaked emails in academic departments, the world’s climate is changing fast (NASA reports that  009 ties with a cluster of other years as the second-warmest year on record since 1880 and the decade 2000-2009 was the warmest 10-year period). Climate change will add pressures to our already difficult development challenges. We care about climate change because it can derail several development efforts undertaken in recent decades.

The channels linking climate change to development are numerous but most of them involve water (or the lack of it). Droughts, floods, storm surges and changes in rainfall patterns affect the livelihoods of poor people, their nutrition, their security, their future opportunities and probably those of their children. Poorly designed policies to reduce the threat of climate change can exacerbate the problem. One such policy is carbon-intensive economic growth; as mentioned in the first chapter of the World Development Report, “countries cannot grow out of harm’s way fast enough to match the changing climate.” Economic growth is necessary for development, but it needs to become less greenhouse-gas intensive.

Sunita Narain on acting now for climate-smart development

Alexander Lotsch's picture

The World Bank's Sustainable Development Network held its annual forum over the past two weeks in Washington DC with World Development Report 2010’s theme of 'Act now, Act together, Act differently'. Hundreds of World Bank staff convened to discuss the way forward on climate action with colleagues, clients and climate experts. With the Copenhagen Accord leaving many important issues of international climate policy unresolved, development experts focused on the positive actions that can be taken to foster ‘climate-smart’ development. In a high-level plenary discussion, international experts discussed how green investments stimulate economic recovery and climate-smart growth, as in Korea and China, and the role of rich and poor countries in sharing the global atmospheric commons going forward. We asked Sunita Narain, one of the panelists—and Director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi—about what actions she thinks need to be taken now at the global level, and about the role of international development institutions in putting climate-smart development into practice. 

Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi from World Bank on Vimeo.

Success and failure in international regimes

Andrea Liverani's picture

To be effective, multilateral regimes need to get three things right. They first have to ensure levels of participation adequate to solving the problem at hand. They then need to require adequate action from all parties. And finally have to encourage, or enforce, compliance.

Participation. Action. Compliance. Achieving only two of these three objectives is not enough.

Without adequate participation, encouraging action and compliance is meaningless. Consider a non-proliferation treaty where even one of the proliferators is left out: this would lead at best to non- compliance and at worst to a collapse of the regime itself.

Similarly, without compliance, achieving adequate participation and requiring action would lead to underachieving on the objectives, and alienate complying parties: a fisheries regime where the quotas are constantly overshot would lead to a collapse of fish stocks and of trust between parties.

And without adequate action, compliance and participation become meaningless. If the prescribed reduction in total warheads is not sufficient to reduce the dangers of proliferation, then whether or not parties comply does not matter. Equally, there is no point in agreeing to fishing quotas whose limits are largely beyond what is required necessary to preserve the stocks.

Why Aren't Asset Managers Factoring in Climate Change?

Rachel Ilana Block's picture

There is a self-interested economic logic that often holds true for political questions relating to climate change.  As reflected in the poll of public attitudes toward climate change commissioned by the WDR and published last month, citizens of the poorest countries—those most vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change—are much more likely to rate climate change as “very serious” than are citizens of high-income countries, who possibly perceive themselves as less vulnerable.  The shares ranking climate change as a very serious problem were: U.S. 31%, Japan 38%, and France 43%, in contrast to Senegal 72%, Kenya 75%, and Bangladesh 85%.

Yet, while the livelihoods of a fisherman in Senegal, a pastoralist in Kenya, and a rice farmer in Bangladesh’s delta might be the most immediately vulnerable to climate change, it’s worth noting that the assets of an insurance company on the U.S.’s Gulf Coast, a real estate investor in Japan, and a champagne-producing giant in France are vulnerable too.

Technology Innovation

Xiaodong Wang's picture

As my colleague Mike Toman noted recently, Geoffrey Heal of Columbia University said the following in a recent blog post:

"neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."

However, this view does not factor in future technological innovation, which I think is very significant.

The IEA Energy Technology Perspective projected that renewable energy could contribute around 50% of the power mix by 2050 under their Blue Scenario to achieve a 450 ppm world. Many other global leading energy/climate scenarios have the same projections, including those from Shell. Of renewable energy resources, geothermal, hydro, and biomass can provide base-load power. Indeed, solar and wind are intermittent.

To 'decarbonize' electricity supply, significant technological challenges remain

Michael Toman's picture

As WDR 2010 observes in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost."  The development as well as diffusion of climate-smart technology was an important part of the debates leading up to Copenhagen.  A recent blog by Professor Geoffrey Heal  of Columbia University, whose work on climate change damages is referenced in the WDR, addresses this topical and controversial issue.  Writing at, a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, Heal argues that

..."neither costs nor capital requirement will prevent us from decarbonising the electricity supply. The real obstacle to doing this largely with renewables is our current inability to store power, and as long as we cannot store power we will need to use non-renewable sources like nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage."

Heal's blog can be found at