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The World Region

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Save the chocolate and the planet

Alan Miller's picture

With Durban climate change meetings around the corner, discussion on the long-term risks to Africa and the severity of recent extreme events has understandably increased – for example, hot, dry weather that could make farming more challenging for large parts of Africa.

These changes will almost certainly affect all of us at least indirectly, as populations are forced to migrate, disaster relief costs escalate, and increased uncertainty lowers market returns and economic growth.

But it may help to appreciate the true meaning of the expected changes from climate change to consider some of the less dramatic – but far reaching – smaller impacts that will affect all of us in a myriad of ways in our daily lives. A good example is recent predictions of climate impacts on some of our favorite foods – not necessarily life shattering, but a big part of our daily rituals and pleasure in life. Consider three in particular: coffee, chocolate, and wine. The first two are particularly important agricultural exports for Africa.

Starbucks recently announced concerns about the future of its supply chain due to the impacts of climate change. Short-term impacts are already evident due to floods in key coffee growing nations such as Columbia. The Union of Concerned Scientists observes that coffee growing is tied to specific locations such that even small changes in temperature can affect production and increase exposure to pests and disease.

Island gathering highlights the many ways of seeing REDD

Benoît Bosquet's picture

This past September, we were invited to an unusual event with Indigenous Peoples in the territory of Guna Yala on Panama’s Caribbean coastline recently. A dozen representatives of the World Bank, including the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) secretariat, met up on the tiny island of Gaigirgordub, which is part of the San Blas archipelago.

These islands are specks of land no more than two feet above the water line, surrounded by crystal clear waters, and the verdant mountains of the mainland on the horizon. The Guna people become islanders because of a conflict a century or so ago, but they have not lost their attachment to their forests. You just have to look at the landscape as you drive through Guna Yala to see how dense the forests are, in stark contrast to their adjacent province of Panama, where agriculture and urban expansion have taken their toll. So what better place than Guna Yala to talk about the role of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+ (the acronym for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and conservation of forest carbon stocks)?

Facts, knowledge and women, trump myth and superstition

Fionna Douglas's picture

When scientists from a broad range of disciplines get together to discuss research to feed the world, while protecting the planet in a changing climate, it’s not surprising that they would call for increased investment. More surprising is that they would agree on setting clear priorities.

The World Bank co-organized the Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Wageningen, Netherlands, with Wageningen University and The Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation as part of its efforts to build the store of knowledge that can help small holder farmers around the globe increase productivity – a central theme of the Bank’s Agriculture Action Plan – and build resilience to climate change. The conference will also inform the upcoming global climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

Motivated by the statement of UK Chief Scientific Officer Sir John Beddington that the world is unlikely to make the changes required to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade, and is heading for a “4 degree centigrade world with disastrous implications for African food security”, the scientists heeded policy makers’ pleas and delivered some clear evidence-based advice.

Will Suna get a dam despite the change in rainfall?

Philip Angell's picture

Earlier this year, we were in a country called Suna. If it sounds unfamiliar, it is an imaginary developing country in West Africa. For one day, two dozen senior Ghanaian officials and business leaders in Accra participated in a simulation exercise. They were grappling with a question on whether to build a new hydroelectric dam in the backdrop of uncertain data on water availability for the next 50 years. Although the situation was fictionalized, the problem is quite real for decision makers in many parts of the world.

The broader question was: How do you prepare for the tough, contentious, complex decisions required to deal with impacts of climate change that now seem inevitable? 

That question posed for the simulation exercise was key to the 13th edition of the World Resources Report: Decision Making in a Changing Climate (jointly published by the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, and the World Resources Institute). We took a distinctly new approach to research and writing this report, one that engaged a wide range of experts and practitioners from the very beginning, as well as one that tried new techniques. 

One important part of that new approach was to engage government officials, members of civil society and the private sector in two developing countries, Ghana and Vietnam, to participate in scenario exercises involving climate adaptation decisions. The goal was to learn how officials approached such decisions, how they would go about making them…and why.

The reason the core question is complex is the vast sea of uncertainty on the extent of future climate impacts. Between now and 2050, predictions in a 2010 World Bank report on the Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, suggests that yearly rainfall in the country could plummet to 60% less than it is today or increase by as much as 49%.

Nine hours with Al Gore

Judy Baker's picture

On Thursday I had the honor and privilege to make a presentation on issues of sustainable urbanization and urban poverty at a small summit organized by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in New York City. Vice President Gore is writing a book about drivers of global change that will cover a range of topics including population and demographics, which was the focus of the meeting. 

His team identified about 12 experts from a range of disciplines—a sociologist; demographer; geographer; researchers working on issues of family, aging, and gender; a writer; and an economist to explore patterns, trends, and current research. I was on a panel along with Saskia Sassen of Columbia University and David Owen of the New Yorker magazine. We all sat in a small room for 9 hours, presenting different perspectives on demographic change, each contributing from our own disciplines. 

More (and Targeted) Financing Needed to Expand Energy Access

Daniel Kammen's picture

Energy poverty cripples development prospects. Where people don’t have access to modern energy services, like reliable electricity, their ability to earn a livelihood is sabotaged. That’s why UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called — admirably — for “a revolution that makes energy available and affordable for all” in 2012, designated the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

This sense of urgency is needed, especially in Africa, as current International Energy Agency forecasts project that the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to modern energy services will grow by almost 100 million between now and 2030 (see the figure below).

Time to engage the private sector on climate finance

Alan Miller's picture

I was at the Climate Investment Funds meetings in Cape Town last week with several other representatives from development banks, NGOs and governments to discuss results, impacts and the future of this financial mechanism. One of many themes cutting across meetings in Cape Town was the importance and challenge of engaging the private sector in climate finance. The private sector is by far the largest source of investment, the dominant provider of technology, and often essential for implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures. However, based on the discussions this week, it’s apparent there is much to learn about what is actually expected or sought from the business community. Here are some of my observations from the meeting:

  1. In my experience references to “the” private sector are common but largely meaningless and often confusing in failing to distinguish between entities as different as major multinational manufacturers, international financiers, and locally- based entrepreneurs. Some speakers even used the term more broadly to encompass markets, including policies directed at consumers.
  2. There are some unavoidable tensions between emphasizing country plans and priorities and the promotion of markets for climate-friendly products and services. This is particularly true in smaller and poorer countries. Control of donor resources is fundamental for many governments but sometimes difficult to reconcile with the flexibility, consistency, and speed required by investors. Public-private partnerships (the focus of a Cape Town session) is one solution but not always appropriate or workable.   Finding models which can blend the two, as in the collaborative IFC/World Bank Lighting Africa project, will be increasingly important. The World Bank was able to build a relationship with energy ministries while IFC focused on helping businesses. Together, they have been able to address a wide range of issues from regulatory systems to that of supply chain development.

Time to clear the smoke

Daniel Kammen's picture

In many parts of the world, a picture of a woman sitting in front of a smoky cookstove preparing a family meal remains an iconic picture of life today. For many families, the three- stone fire or a traditional stove as a cooking device has not changed over centuries.  This need not be the case, and in a growing number of nations, that traditional pattern is changing.

Serious research on improved cookstoves dates back to the 1950s. However, large-scale field programs focused largely on the inefficiency of designs. While the stoves may appear simple, the socio-cultural systems in which they operate, and their impacts on so many aspects of household and regional health and economics, is far from simple. Many approaches have been tried, with some successes and many failures.

Over the last few years, a more complete view of the full human and environmental health impacts of indoor air pollution and the global impact of the fuel and stove cycle has emerged. Poorly managed fuel systems encourage use of unsustainably harvested fuel such as charcoal produced from illegal and ecologically damaging informal production network.

The World Bank is looking at opportunities to improve not only cookstoves themselves, but also the full stove fuel cycle as a way to address energy poverty, human health, and the global greenhouse gas problem. I was delighted to see a new publication that looks at this nexus between health, environment and GHG benefits called Household Cookstoves, Environment, Health, and Climate Change: A New Look at an Old Problem. This report takes stock of existing knowledge on the subject and points out new opportunities by identifying `game-changers’ in the stove technology and fuels.

Fast forward to a cooler world

Richard Hosier's picture

At the C40 Summit in Sao Paolo last week, former President Clinton urged participating cities and the World Bank to make a dramatic reduction in methane and black carbon. He said it would help the earth buy some time on climate change. He has reasons to be worried: In Cancun last year, parties agreed to stabilize average global temperatures at a level not exceeding 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels. This looks difficult as 0.8 degree C warming has already taken place and GHG emissions continue to grow. 

Developed countries collectively reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a mere 6.1% from 1990-2008. Compared to the fast track for warming, humanity is on the slow train to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions.

President Clinton’s statement follows two recent reports that point to emerging scientific awareness that a climate change strategy focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide (CO2) is neither the quickest nor the most effective way to achieve long-term climate stabilization. These reports focus on non-CO2 emissions that stay in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than CO2. As a result, reducing emissions of these non-CO2 gases will result in a slowing of temperature rise over the first half of the 21st century, buying time both to adapt and to transition away from carbon. 

The first report, produced by UNEP and WMO, assesses black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Black carbon—basically soot—is produced by incomplete combustion of carbon fuels, particularly diesel, wood, and coal. It is a dark suspended particle or aerosol, technically not a GHG. It is frequently emitted together with light-colored aerosols (sulfates and organic carbon) which cool the climate. The latest research indicates that, on balance, the warming effect of black carbon overpowers the cooling effect of its companions. It stays in the atmosphere for only a few weeks before falling to earth. Its warming contribution comes from its black color, making it absorb heat while in the air. If it falls onto mountain or polar snow, it accelerates glacial melt.

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