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Mary Barton-Dock's blog

New Bank Climate Department off and running

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At a meeting of the Asia Society in New York last week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, estimated that a 1 degree increase in the planet’s temperature (we are already at .8 degrees) would cost her country 3-4% of its GDP growth annually. At the same time, DARA, a European-based NGO, and the Climate Vulnerability Forum released the second Climate Vulnerability Monitor, which estimates that climate change is already costing the world 1.6% of GDP growth globally, and contributing to over 400,000 deaths. The report, written by over 50 scientists, economists and policy experts, also estimates that by 2030 climate change and air pollution combined could cost the world 3.2% of growth globally, and up to 11% in the world’s least developed countries. 

I spent  nine of the last 20 years living in Africa, watching the continent struggle terribly with negative growth in the 90’s, fight its way to positive growth and eventually celebrate a 5-8% growth rate that allowed many African countries to put a serious dent in poverty. But clearly, those hard won gains in poverty reduction and development are at risk, and sooner than we thought. The most important message of DARA’s report is that climate change is not just a problem for future generations.

But as former President José María Figueres of Costa Rica reminded a United Nations General Assembly audience last week, climate change also presents an enormous economic opportunity. Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance reported that over $1 trillion was invested in clean energy last year. And the feeling is that this figure could be much higher if we could just figure out the policies and financial instruments to unleash capital in the direction of green growth. So which path will we seize for our changing climate? The one which builds on the growth and development of past decades or the one which leads to the grim prospect of losing hard fought gains against poverty? The race to choose is on, and for those of us whose dream is a world free of poverty, for those of us who couldn’t bear to see Africa return to the economic and social struggles of the 90’s, we’d better get sprinting.

So today ─ against this very compelling background ─ we launch our new Climate Policy and Finance Department (CPF) at the World Bank. This department brings together the Climate Change team, the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) Admin Unit, the Carbon Finance program, the GEF and Montreal Protocol teams around this essential question: what can the World Bank Group do to help countries take climate action at a faster speed and larger scale, and turn climate change into an engine for growth?

Buying time as the climate clock ticks on

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We’ve all had our moments of frustration with the unending negotiations on mechanisms to control carbon dioxide emissions. In the last Conference of Parties held at Durban in 2011, it was decided that the global deal for the post Kyoto framework will only be reached by 2015.

Meanwhile, the climate clock is ticking: countries continue to face the impacts of climate change with the poorest being hardest hit. Science has shed the spotlight on a “parallel track” which could help us deal with part of the climate change problem in a faster, cheaper way – it is tackling short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), primarily black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

These pollutants, while being extremely potent in terms of their global warming potential are short-lived in the atmosphere. For example, black carbon persists in the atmosphere for about two weeks (compared to CO2 that lives for up to 100 years) and is 917 times more warming than CO2 over a 100 year timeframe (and 3,320 times over 20 years).So, action on SCLPs can help buy time in addressing the more important and longer-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Giving oceans a fighting chance

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Last week I went swimming with manta rays, sharks and dolphins along some of the world’s most spectacular reefs. Well at least, it felt like I was swimming among them. With my special 3D glasses on, it was as if I was flying across coral atolls, plunging through clouds of jellyfish and darting in and out of brightly colored corals alongside hundreds of thousands of tropical fish.

In a new film by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas – The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea – viewers embark on a worldwide journey to explore coral reef habitats from Palau and French Polynesia in the Pacific to the Bahamas in the Caribbean.

As visually stunning as the film is, it carries a very sobering message: human activity is having a significant negative impact on the world’s oceans.

Many of us who work on climate change and oceans have known about the threat from ocean acidification and warming for a long time. Increasing carbon dioxide emissions have resulted in rising surface and air temperatures. Moreover, ocean acidity is rising owing to an increased absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing acidity levels in turn make it harder for corals to grow and for shell-forming animals like mussels to build their protective housing, leading to knock-on effects of biodiversity loss in ocean called “dead zones”.

The movie’s message is reinforced by a recent report published in Science Magazine which says the oceans are acidifying at a pace not seen in 300 million years. Historically, ocean acidification has led to mass extinctions. What makes today’s situation particularly alarming is that the rise in CO2 is not due to volcanic eruptions or other natural occurrences but is the direct consequence of human behavior over the course of the last century or so.