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On the importance of snow and joint climate action in Central Asia

Kulsum Ahmed's picture
Kyrgyz Republic / World Bank

If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs.  In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced.  The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Making the risky business of agriculture ‘climate-smart’

Vikas Choudhary's picture

Farmers harvest crops in Madagascar.

Agriculture is an inherently risky business.  From natural disasters and erratic rainfall to pests, few other sectors are as exposed or as vulnerable to shocks.
Climate change is a source of significant risks for agricultural and food systems: Climate projections suggest that average growing conditions will shift and there will be more uncertainty in predicting climate and weather conditions. More concretely, these impacts will translate into an overall warming trend, an increasingly erratic distribution of precipitation, more frequent and more devastating extreme weather events, and spatial shifts in the occurrence of pests and diseases. These impacts can cause production losses which lead to market volatility and in some cases, reactionary shifts in policies and regulations. 

Natural Capital Accounting: Going beyond the numbers

Stig Johansson's picture
Guatemala. World Bank

Here are some facts that you might not know: Do these numbers just seem like bits of trivia? In fact, these are all important results that came out of natural capital accounting (NCA) – a system for generating data on natural resources, such as forests, energy and water, which are not included in traditional statistics. NCA follows standards approved by the United Nations to ensure trust, consistency and comparison across time and countries.
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.

Introducing our new Sustainable Communities blog series

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Making sure that villages, cities, but also countries and societies at large can grow in a sustainable way will be key to achieving the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating poverty and boosting shared prosperity. This new blog series on “Sustainable Communities” will provide a platform for our experts to explore the multiple aspects of sustainability – environmental, social, economic, and discuss what concrete solutions can be implemented to pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable future.

Mauritania’s race against the rising sea

Nathalie Abu-Ata's picture
Photo by Nathalie Abu-Ata / World Bank

“If we don’t take action now…the city of Nouakchott will soon be underwater.” These words, spoken by Mauritania’s Minister on Environment and Sustainable Development Amedi Camara, during a recent workshop in the country’s capital city, echoed a recurrent theme during our visits with Mauritanian authorities and local communities alike. They have stuck with me since.

Floods are not a new phenomenon for Nouakchott. A busy port city on Africa’s west coast, Nouakchott is mostly below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to rising groundwater levels, seawater intrusions, porous soils, sand extractions, and heavy rains in low-lying areas. Poorly planned port infrastructure has dramatically altered the dynamic and flow of sediments along the coast leading to substantial erosion in the city’s south (up to 25 meters annually in some years).

To make matters worse, severe and sometimes deadly floods have struck the city in recent decades. Extreme weather and human interventions have played a significant role in making the capital, with one-third of the population, or 1 million people, increasingly vulnerable to floods. 

Knowing your steak’s origin and impact on the environment? It’s possible

Katie Kennedy Freeman's picture
Also available in: Español
Cattle tagged through Uruguay’s national system for livestock information.
Cattle tagged through Uruguay’s national system for livestock information. Photo: Holger A. Kray/World Bank

Imagine if you could know where your steak was born, and all of the details about its life until it reached your plate.  Since 2011, this has been possible with Uruguay’s national system for livestock information or Sistema Nacional de Información Ganadera (SNIG).  

Why 100% traceability of cattle matters

The World Bank aided the development of SNIG, which became fully operational in 2004, as part of its support for Uruguay’s recovery from the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic. The SNIG, which is a livestock registration system with more than 75,000 participants in the agricultural and industrial sectors, paved the way for Uruguay’s mandatory individual cattle traceability program. All animals born in September 2006 or later are required to be tagged with one visual ear tag and one radio frequency identification tag, both for traceability purposes. The novel system allowed Uruguay to become the only country in the Americas (and one of only a few in the world) with 100% traceability of cattle and allowed consumers, mainly in China, Europe and NAFTA areas to know the origin of the beef for health (fewer diseases with full tractability), social (ability to know that the cows were grass-fed) and environmental (sustainability of natural resources) reasons. ​

The path to carbon pricing

Jim Yong Kim's picture
Also available in: Français | 中文 | Español | العربية
Iron and Steel giant ISKOR's Vanderbijl Park refinery. © John Hogg/World Bank

In just six weeks, world leaders will meet in Paris to negotiate a new global climate-change agreement. To date, 150 countries have submitted plans detailing how they will move their economies along a more resilient low-carbon trajectory. These plans represent the first generation of investments to be made in order to build a competitive future without the dangerous levels of carbon-dioxide emissions that are now driving global warming.

The transition to a cleaner future will require both government action and the right incentives for the private sector. At the center should be a strong public policy that puts a price on carbon pollution. Placing a higher price on carbon-based fuels, electricity, and industrial activities will create incentives for the use of cleaner fuels, save energy, and promote a shift to greener investments. Measures such as carbon taxes and fees, emissions-trading programs and other pricing mechanisms, and removal of inefficient subsidies can give businesses and households the certainty and predictability they need to make long-term investments in climate-smart development.

Global dialogue bolsters World Bank engagement with Indigenous Peoples

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Also available in: Español
Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ sustainable development is critical to meeting the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the countries in which they live. The recent International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty both helped draw attention to the 350 million Indigenous Peoples in the world who:
  • Are culturally distinct societies and communities – the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, and economies;
  • Are among the most disadvantaged populations in the world, representing roughly 4.5 percent of the global population but more than 10 percent of the poor; and 
  • Even within their own traditional territories – which hold 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity – they legally own less than 11 percent of the land.
The World Bank is working actively and globally with Indigenous Peoples on a number of issues directly affecting them, and seeks to position marginalized groups such as the Indigenous Peoples at the center of the development agenda.

It should be recognized, however, that improving the conditions for Indigenous Peoples is not an easy task. Indigenous Peoples are often found in remote and isolated regions with poor access to social services and economic infrastructure. They also often suffer from multiple dimensions of exclusion. Furthermore, standard development projects have shown limitations in areas with Indigenous Peoples, particularly if they are not designed and implemented with the active participation of the indigenous communities.

On rhino horns, banking nature and climate hope

Muthukumara Mani's picture
It is not often that as an economist, you find yourself surrounded by creative artists! I found myself in such a situation recently when I was invited to be a panelist for the Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival. It presented me with an opportunity to witness firsthand how the issues of environment and climate change are perceived and interpreted in the community of artists and filmmakers.

The festival criteria read that “by screening a diverse selection of high quality films that deal with pressing issues, and by organizing discussion panels with environmental experts, filmmakers and other stakeholders, the Festival seeks to promote dialogue and inspire Dominican viewers to adopt practices that will ensure the country’s environmental sustainability and health.” For a small Caribbean nation to take these issues seriously and attempt to educate its people using cinema was indeed commendable.
Gambling on Extinction, directed by Jakob Kneser

What I witnessed on landing in Santo Domingo was truly remarkable. There were filmmakers from all over the world, but also organizers of similar festivals from other countries. That is when I realized that environmental film festivals have now become a global movement with the intention of informing, influencing, and galvanizing people on critical environmental issues. While the first “environmental” films were produced back in the 1960s when the global environmental movement was in its infancy, there are now 30 or more international environmental film festivals held all over the world attracting hundreds of films and thousands of people. They cover issues such as clean water, sanitation, forests, biodiversity, sustainable consumption and climate change. Even more remarkable, most of these short films or documentaries are often produced on a shoe-string budget, but with an enormous degree of passion and perseverance to get the message across.  What really impressed me was that although they dealt with critical issues facing us today, in most cases the messages were of hope and optimism!

I want to share with you some of the films that I watched: