Just consider some statistics. It’s estimated some one point four million people move to cities every week. And by 2050, we will add nearly 2.5 billion people to the planet, with 90 percent of the urban growth in that time taking place in developing countries.
Yet living in cities can be risky business. Many large cities are coastal, in deltas or on rivers and at risk from of flooding from powerful storms or rising sea levels. Globally 80 percent of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to severe earthquakes and 60 percent are at risk from tsunamis and storm surges.
Average economic losses from natural disasters are rising, despite considerable efforts to better manage risk from natural hazards over the last few decades. Data from Munich Re shows a sharp rise, from $50 billion a year in the 1980s to just under $200 billion annually in the last decade. Population growth, rapid urbanization, and climate change are compounding these losses. Securing prosperity in the midst of growing hazards is an enormous challenge that demands a new approach to development.
The international community is rising to meet this challenge head-on. Last week in Oslo, Norway, I had the privilege of participating in the 15th Consultative Group Meeting for the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), where 75 representatives from partner countries and international development organizations met to help scale up and better mainstream efforts to build climate and disaster resilience in some of the most vulnerable communities around the globe.
With the importance of this effort in mind, I co-authored an article with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, in which the minister and I argue that sustainable development gains require a new approach towards mitigating risk from climate change and natural hazards. After the recent days spent with my colleagues in Norway, I’m encouraged by the shared enthusiasm of GFDRR and its partners for the task ahead. It’s time to get to work.
Typhoon Haiyan, the Category 5 super storm that devastated parts of the Philippines and killed thousands late last year, continues to remind us, tragically, of how vulnerable we are to weather-related disasters.
As the images of destruction and desperation continue to circle the globe, we’re also reminded that those most at risk when natural disaster strikes are the world’s poor – people who have little money to help them recover and who lack food security, access to clean water, sanitation and health services.
Over the last year, as one major extreme weather event after another wreaked havoc and claimed lives in the developing world, terms such as "resilience" and "loss and damage" have become part and parcel of our efforts here at the World Bank Group – and for good reason.
Developing countries have been facing mounting losses from floods, storms and droughts. Looking ahead, it’s been estimated that up to 325 million extremely poor people could be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
These scenarios are not compatible with the World Bank Group’s goal to reduce extreme poverty to less than 3 percent by 2030, or with our goal to promote shared prosperity.
Late last month, I retired after spending more than 30 years in the climate arena, the last decade as a principal climate change specialist at the International Finance Corporation.
During the span of my career, climate change has moved from the sidelines to be recognized as a serious development challenge. And while we’re still far from achieving the international commitments needed to avoid potentially dangerous and even catastrophic climate events, much has been accomplished.
Scientists have reached near-consensus about climate change and its impacts. We’ve also seen the creation of several significant donor-supported climate funds, as well as a steady increase in policy and financial support for climate-friendly technologies.
In one critical respect, however, we need more progress: making the private sector a partner in helping nations build resilience and adapt to climate change.
They inhabit two different worlds—buildings and climate change—both outside and within the World Bank. It should not be that way as the building sector could be central to both mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Buildings are important for climate mitigation because they account for about 30% of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy agency (IEA), energy use in this sector is expected to increase globally about 30 % over the next two decades if recent trends continue; however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report concludes buildings offer by far the largest potential source for low cost reductions in CO2 emissions. The World Bank has many projects and analyses addressing this opportunity including a recent ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program) report on the benefits and obstacles to effective building codes. These could address over 60 % of building energy use but remain weak and often unenforced in most Bank client countries.
Buried under the most snow since records have been kept, as we are right now in Washington, the mind turns naturally to the effects of extreme weather events. Clearly the impacts for those of us with solid housing and uninterrupted WiFi access are minimal compared with the impacts of extreme weather for most people in the world. But even here we can see a combination of effects -- the costs of closing offices or of running through the whole winter's supply of firewood in one week, at the same time as the economic uptick for those who repair household boilers, restore downed power lines or dig people's cars out of the snow or shovel their sidewalks for a fee. Since climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, figuring out the net cost of natural disasters is an important topic. And figuring out sensible ways to reduce those costs is also going to be increasingly important.
At the World Bank last week, we had an interesting seminar from Stéphane Hallegate from the French International Centre for Research on Environment and Development and the National Meteorology School that shed light on some of these issues. Stéphane has modelled the impacts of a number of natural disasters looking at both the direct costs of the disaster (how much does it cost to rebuild structures that were destroyed?) and the indirect costs (what is the cost of a business being closed for several months net of any local economic benefits that may occur as reconstruction starts).
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.