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The World Region

Talking about climate change in a new language

Ana Bucher's picture

 

Apps for Climate winners at the Newseum during the Connecting for Climate event. Photos: Leigh Vogel/Connect4Climate

Last week, I was at the Newseum – a place in the heart of Washington DC where cutting edge communication is celebrated and experienced. We were talking about climate change but we used the language of music and creativity. 

More than 400 policy makers, NGOs, journalists and software developers had come together to celebrate the winning entries of the first "Apps for Climate" competition and the launch of a new Voices4Climate competition - Connect4Climate’s new global competition for photos, videos, and music in partnership with MTV.

It was a vibrant event full of music, videos and the enchanting demonstration of “Technology, Creativity, and Action”. Andres Martinez, a young software developer from Argentina was the lucky winner of the night and the creator of EcoFacts, a web tool that shows in an innovative way energy consumption in terms of emissions of CO2 and how small individual actions can help lower your carbon footprint. It answers questions like: what happens if people turn off a light bulb, travel more by train or bicycles, or use alternative energy systems?

Farewell World Bank. You’re on the Right track. And you have a Big Job Ahead!

Andrew Steer's picture


Andrew Steer in Indonesia

Today is my final day at the World Bank.

When I first entered the doors of 1818 H Street three decades and seven Presidents ago, the big buzz in the cafeteria was Cost Benefit Analysis and Basic Needs. President McNamara had  demanded that every project document identify in detail how many of the poorest 25% it would directly and indirectly benefit, and how. The secret to rapid career progress was expertise in shadow pricing (which was appropriate in light of the massive distortions in goods, labor, currency and capital markets in most of our client countries).

But those shadow prices certainly didn’t include the value of environmental externalities. The entire cadre of environmental specialists for the whole institution consisted of one person. (It wasn’t me.)

Last week at the Rio+20 Conference I met up with an old friend, Emil Salim, who for many years was the longest serving Environment Minister in the World, and is still, well into his eighties,  chief environmental advisor to President Yudhoyono of Indonesia. We reminisced about a meeting he and I were at in 1982, when he asked the President of the World Bank for help in dealing with the acute environmental problems associated with Indonesia’s rapid growth. The polite reply he received was “The World Bank is a development agency, not an environment organization. We don’t do this kind of work.”

The wisdom of children...and prophets

Andrew Steer's picture

UN Photo/Maria Elisa Franco

We’re changing planes in Panama on our way to the Rio+20 Earth Summit.  As we taxi out to take off the pilot tells us that we’ll need to wait for 15 minutes while we burn off 300 pounds of fuel, since the plane may be too heavy to take off.

My 11 year-old daughter, who is sitting next to me, says “Isn’t this very silly? It’s wasteful and bad for the climate. Why do they do it?” 

We’ve brought Charlotte, together with her 10 year old brother, Ben, on this trip so they can see how country leaders struggle with the big issues, and also because they ask the right questions, and help keep us grounded. I explained to her that the fuel on international flights is totally untaxed by international agreement, and that subsidies on fossil fuels amount to over $400 billion each year, including over $70 billion in rich countries. And that governments spend more than 20 times more paying people to consume more fossil fuels than they spend on research to develop renewable energy.

“That’s stupid”, says Ben, who is not as polite as his sister. It’s like telling your kids not to smoke, and then paying them each time you see them smoking.

They’re right, of course. And one of the rare bright spots in Rio was the airtime given to fossil subsidies by civil society and the private sector. The B20 (the business shadow of the G20) Working Group on Green Growth, of which I am a member, urged G20 leaders to publish subsidy levels each year, and set a time-bound schedule for their elimination. Not so easy for political leaders to grasp this nettle, of course, having seen several countries, most recently Nigeria, find their efforts to raise energy prices hit with violent opposition. I discussed with Charlotte how smart politicians, such as in Indonesia and Iran, have found ways to use a share of the revenues saved to provide cash compensation to the poor. “Makes sense”, she said.

What a waste in a changing climate

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Let’s talk trash, just for a few minutes. In the time it takes you to read this pithy blog, more than 14,000 tonnes of waste will be generated: that’s enough to fill the Pentagon in less than a day. More than 1.5 billion tonnes of trash will be generated this year alone. And if you’re inclined to read this blog again in 2025, the amount will have increased to 23,000 tonnes. The annual trash generated at that time will be more than 2.2 billion tonnes a year. That’s enough garbage to fill the Roman Coliseum 730 times, or a line of garbage trucks 900,000 km long, 23 times around the world. Last week’s release of What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management summarizes the issue.

Our cities generate enormous amounts of waste, and they’re just getting started – volumes will likely to increase beyond 2100, and we should plan for about a peak volume, four times what we have today. In today’s dollars, annual waste management costs will eventually exceed $1 trillion, and this cost is almost entirely borne by cities (this amount, for example, eclipses any sort of financial contributions to deal with climate change now being discussed within UNFCCC negotiations). Clearly we have a problem. But why is this particularly relevant to the climate change community?

A new `Climate Normal' needed

Alan Miller's picture

The impact of climate change on investment and development is fundamental but is yet to be appreciated, or some in cases even understood. One related issue is a seemingly obscure technical calculation, the use of “Climate Normals” – a standard way of estimating the weather expected in a particular location for any given day. Such estimates have enormous significance for planning power plants, ports, water systems, roads, and long-lived infrastructure.

The difference between temperatures in the ‘70s (a cool period) and the ‘00s (the warmest decade on record) can mean large increases in summer peak demand. The planning of water supply and demand will similarly be dramatically affected with change in temperature and precipitation. Getting it wrong can mean serious under or over investment, with social as well as economic disruption.

The concept of Climate Normals was originally mandated by the WMO and IMO in the 1930s, initially calculated and updated every 30 years. In 1956, the same organizations recommended updates more frequently, every decade. In 2011, the leading US center for archiving and summarizing climate data, National Climate Data Center (NCDC), released the new Climate Normals that cover the period between 1981 and 2010, replacing the previous 1971-2000 installment. 

Take the Blue Line to social resilience

Margaret Arnold's picture

Ever wonder what the subway map of Seoul, Korea has to do with social resilience? A group of policy makers, insurance experts and development practitioners wondered the same thing as they mapped risk management strategies and political economy issues onto the subway line maps of different cities. While it seemed absurd, the exercise forced them to think about connections and relationships they may not have considered before.   The exercise was part of a retreat recently held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to advance a study led by the Social Resilience Cluster on Financial Innovations for Social and Climate Resilience (FISCR). The FISCR initiative is assessing the impacts of index insurance on the welfare and risk management strategies of poor households (for more details on the study, see here).

The format and structure of the Bellagio retreat and was co-designed by the Bank team and by faculty and a student from the trans-disciplinary design program of Parsons the New School for Design. The study team’s partnership with Parsons is a key innovation that integrates design thinking throughout the study’s design, implementation, and dissemination in order to increase its impact. Index insurance and social resilience are complex topics that are challenging to communicate. Working with designers from the beginning of the study allows us to view the issues in different ways and consider the ways to engage and empower the target audience throughout the entire process of the study. 

The FISCR study is unusual as well in that it examines insurance through a social lens. Index insurance schemes (mainly targeting poor farmers and in a couple of cases herders) have been piloted in a number of countries for more than 10 years now, as a way to help the poor protect their livelihoods.  Its proponents speak of great promise: engaging the private sector in the protecting the assets of the poor from climate shocks; enabling the poor to make more productive investments, and encouraging investments in disaster prevention. With these promises, index insurance and other market-based risk financing mechanisms have received a great deal of attention in the global discussion on adaptation financing, including the possibility of developing a climate risk insurance facility (see related Cancun agreement).

Apps For Climate – time to vote for your favorites!

Tim Herzog's picture

Apps For Climate enters a new phase this week. The World Bank’s innovation competition, which was launched at COP-17 alongside the Open Climate Data Initiative and the Climate Change Knowledge Portal, attracted about 50 qualifying entries. These are now on public display on the Apps For Climate websiteTake a look.

For those who have been watching the competition and wondering what developers might cook up, now comes the fun part: trying out the dozens of interesting apps and voting for your favorites. Voting for the Popular Choice category is now open and runs through April 27, 2012, with the winner receiving US$5,000. The entry pool contains something for everyone, including web apps, mobile apps, visualization programs, and games. Some apps focus on taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and others on different aspects of development and adaptation.

Formal judging also kicks off this month. The judging panel includes Christiana Figueres, Rachel Kyte, Rajendra Pachauri, Juliana Rotich, Andrew Steer, and Patrick Svenburg. This group will be reviewing the qualifying entries, and making awards based on originality, design, performance, and potential impact. We will announce these awards in June. There are 15 awards in all, with the first place winner receiving US$15,000.

Be afraid. Be very afraid

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Earlier this week, I read an article in Scientific American that had an ominous warning ‘global warming is close to becoming irreversible’. In typical cautionary climate-speak there’s a hope stated that “we can cap temperature rise to two degrees”. This is followed by a more subtle message, “we are on the cusp of some big changes”.

‘On the cusp of changes’ is an understatement. There are a half-dozen possible tipping points, crossing any of which gets us into scary unchartered territory. Ocean acidity and coral die-off; drying the Amazon rainforest; run away growing fossil fuel use; loss of ice sheets; large scale melting of permafrost: and the biggest tipping point of all – our amazing inability to come anywhere near an agreement limiting global GHG emissions and warming.

The article argues that unless we seriously curb the rate of growth of GHG emissions within the next 10 years, we will cross tipping points that lead to significant and irreversible global warming. And yet, all that was agreed at COP17 in Durban last year is for countries to reach an agreement by 2015 for action that will not start until 2020. Too little too late, according to the science.

The world will likely only see 450 ppm CO2 concentrations from our rear-view mirror as we hurtle down the express lane to at least 550 ppm CO2 and a 5 degree warming. What the article doesn’t say is that we will need to figure out how to geo-engineer some sort of amelioration. Good luck with that. We can’t agree on the much easier aspects of limiting GHG emissions; how will we ever agree on something as complicated as managing the planet’s climate?

Giving oceans a fighting chance

Mary Barton-Dock's picture

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.

Tar sands: The story behind the headlines

Alan Miller's picture

The complexity of climate change issue is a challenge for most mainstream media, which increasingly seek the shortest possible sound bite to interest an audience with a very limited attention span. Yet a recent example illustrates the importance of looking past the headlines to understand the importance and true meaning of scientific announcements.  The article featured the optimistic headline: “New study finds oil sands fuels would cause imperceptible temperature rise.” 

This declaration understandably attracted considerable attention from climate policy-watchers because Canadian oil sands (also commonly referred to as “tar sands” reflecting the heavy, molasses like quality of the substance) are the resource proposed for transmission via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline recently denied a permit by the Obama Administration. (Oil sands deposits have also been found in Russia, Venezuela and Kazakhstan, but a majority of identified reserves and virtually all commercial production are in Canada.)  

Some advocates for developing the oil sands see their use as essentially a national energy security issue, maintaining the pipeline is an important step forward toward fulfilling the long cherished dream of US energy independence, not to mention the potential to reduce or at least stabilize gasoline prices: ``Is US Energy Independence Finally Within Reach”, National Public Radio, March 7, 2012.

To be sure, the promise of lower gasoline prices and energy security are strong considerations. But an ongoing debate continues as to whether or not this economically attractive resource can be extracted, refined, and distributed without unacceptable environmental harm. This is why an otherwise academic analysis by Neil Swart and Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria in British Columbia proved newsworthy. They calculated the global temperature rise that would result from the carbon dioxide released by burning currently proven reserves of Canadian oil sands: Neil Swart and Andrew Weaver, “The Alberta oil sand and climate,” Nature Climate Change, Feb. 19, 2012.

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